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Social Studies help for American History, Economics and AP Government. There are class notes, numerous Supreme Court case summaries and information on how to write a research paper inside.

Historic Supreme Court Cases

Student Free Speech

Tinker v Des Moines (1969)

Several students and parents in Des Moines organized a protest of the Vietnam war. Students were to wear black arm bands to school in protest. When the school found out they warned all the students and parents that anyone wearing the armbands would be would be suspended. The Tinker children wore their armbands to school (they were the only ones of the group to do so) and were suspended. Mr and Mrs. Tinker filed suit claiming that the school violated the children's right to freedom of speech and expression. The school claimed that the armbands were disruptive.

The court ruled against the school district saying that "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates. In doing so the court protected what has come to be known as "symbolic speech."


Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) - Censorship Case

The Board of Education of the Island Trees School District in New York directed the removal of nine books from the libraries of the Island Trees senior and junior high schools because in the Board's opinion the books were "anti­American, anti­Christian, anti­Semitic, and just plain filthy." Some books included were: The Fixer, Soulon Ice, Slaughterhouse Five, Go AskAlice, The Best Stories by Negro Writers, and others. Four students from the high school and one from the junior high school sued the school district, claiming that the removal of the books was a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the students, saying that the books were not required reading. According to Justice Brennan, who cited West Virginia Board of Education v. Bamette, 319 U.S.624 (1943), "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in these books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." He also cited Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S.503 (1969), saying that high school students have First Amendment rights in the classroom. Although the schools have a right to determine the content of their libraries, they may not interfere with a student's right to learn. Therefore, the schools may not control their libraries in a manner that results in a narrow, partisan view of certain matters of opinion. The Court stood against the removal or suppression of ideas in schools.


Bethel School District v Fraser (1986)

Matthew Fraser, a high school student in Bethel, Washington, delivered a speech nominating a fellow student for a student elective office. The speech was made during school hours as a part of a school-sponsored educational program in self-government. The voluntary assembly was attended by about 600 students, many of whom were 14-year-olds. Throughout the speech, the student deliberately referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate and explicit sexual metaphor. The reactions of the students varied from enthusiastic hooting and yelling to embarrassment and bewilderment. Before the speech, the student had discussed it with several teachers, and two teachers told him they thought it was not appropriate. The student was suspended for three days for having violated the school's "disruptive conduct" rule, which prohibited conduct that substantially interfered with the educational process, including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the school board acted entirely within its permissible authority in punishing Fraser for "his offensively lewd and indecent speech." This was not a situation where Fraser was sanctioned for expressing a political viewpoint as in the Tinker "armband" case; the sexual innuendo was incidental to the merits of the candidate who was being nominated. "It is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse . . . Schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order."

The Court repeated its recognition of an interest in protecting minors from exposure to vulgar and offensive spoken language. Even in a heated political discourse among adults, the Court emphasized the need for consideration for the personal sensibilities of the audience. "A high school assembly or classroom is no place for a sexually explicit monologue directed towards an unsuspecting audience of teenage students." The Court also stated that the school regulation and the negative reactions of two teachers gave Fraser sufficient notice that his speech might result in his suspension. (Hardin)

Fujishima v. Board of Education (7th Cir. 1972)

In 1970, Burt Fujishima and Richard Peluso were suspended from Lane Technical High School in Chicago for four and seven days, respectively, for distributing about 350 free copies of an "underground" newspaper they published entitled "The Cosmic Frog". Robert Balanoff was also suspended for two days for giving another student an unsigned copy of a petition calling for "teach-ins" concerning the war in Vietnam. Robert was also suspended for five days for distributing leaflets about the war to 15 or 20 students during a fire drill. The board of education required prior approval of publications to be distributed at school.

At issue was whether or not a board of education rule which prohibits any person from distributing publications on school premises unless they have been approved by the superintendent was constitutional? The courts decision was no, a rule requiring prior approval of publications is an unconstitutional restraint in violation of the First Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals interpreted the Tinker v. Des Moines decision to mean that school officials would have to be able to predict that existing conduct, such as wearing armbands, would probably interfere with school discipline in order to justify punishment of students for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. Such "predictability" is not "a basis for establishing a system of censorship and licensing designed to prevent the exercise of First Amendment rights." (emphasis added) School officials may establish rules setting forth the time, manner, and place in which the distribution of written materials may occur. Then, the board may punish students who violate those rules. (PATCH - See Below)


Eisner v. Stamford Board of Education (2d Cir. 1971)


Students in a Connecticut High School produced and distributed a mimeographed newspaper entitled the Stamford Free Press. The first three issues were distributed off school grounds, and the students requested permission to distribute it on school grounds. The board of education issued a regulation prohibiting the distribution of written material on school grounds without prior approval of the school administration. The only guidelines were that material should not be distributed if it will interfere with school operation or discipline, will cause violence or disorder, or will invade others' rights. The students filed suit for a declaratory judgment regarding their rights.

The following questions were raised:

  • (1) Is it constitutional for school boards to prevent the distribution of material on school grounds?
  • (2) Was this board's regulation constitutional?

The 2nd Circuit Court decided the follwong:

(1) Yes, prior restraints are permissible under the Tinker decision if school officials can reasonably predict "substantial disruption of or material interference with school."

(2) No, this particular board regulation is unconstitutional because it did not establish specific procedural safeguards for the review of the materials to be distributed. In effect, this decision requires school officials to balance their interest in maintaining discipline with students' rights. The procedural safeguards must prescribe: (a) a definite, brief period of time for completing a review of the material; (b) to whom and how material may be submitted for clearance. Prompt review or "appeal" procedures must be provided for situations in which permission is denied. (Hardin)

Quarterman v. Byrd (5th Cir. 1971)


Charles Quarterman, a tenth-grade student at Pine Forest High School in North Carolina, was suspended for ten days for distributing an "underground" newspaper at the school in November, 1970. A school rule prohibited the distribution of publications by students without the express permission of the principal. Two months later, he distributed another newspaper with an article which concluded this statement in large capital letters:


He was again suspended for ten days.

At issue was whether or not a school regulation prohibiting students from distributing publications without the express permission of the principal was an unconstitutional prior restraint on students' First Amendment rights? The 5th Circuit ruled that this regulation is invalid because it lacks criteria to be followed by school officials in deciding whether to grant or to deny permission, as well as procedural safeguards for the review of the decision of school officials. The decsion was based upon the fact that Quarterman was not disciplined because of the potentially inflammatory and disruptive speech, but because he had violated the regulation prohibiting the distribution of printed material without permission. Therefore, his First Amendment rights to freedom of the press and expression were violated. Because the extent of free speech and expression is not absolute, and may be affected by the age or maturity of the audience to whom it is addressed, a rule with procedural safeguards and specific guidelines for determining what may be published or distributed in schools may be constitutional. (PATCH - See Below)


Student Discipline

Goss v. Lopez (1975)

Due Process

Several public high school students (including D. Lopez) were suspended from school for misconduct but were not given a hearing immediately before or after their suspension. School authorities in Columbus, Ohio, claimed that a state law allowed them to suspend students for up to ten days without a hearing. The students brought a legal action, claiming that the statute was unconstitutional because it allowed school authorities to deprive students of their right to a hearing, violating the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The issue was whether the suspension of a student for a period of up to ten days without a hearing constitutes a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court of the United States said that education is a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause and any suspension requires prior notice and a hearing. Permitting suspension without a hearing is, therefore, unconstitutional. The Court said that oral or written notice of the charges brought against a student must be given to the student who is being suspended for more than a trivial period. If he denies the charges, the student must be given a hearing. The hearing may be an informal one where the student is simply given an explanation of the evidence against him and an opportunity to tell his side of the story. (PATCH - See Below)

Ingraham v. Wright (1977)

Corporal Punishment

Florida law permitted corporal punishment if not "degrading or unduly severe." On one occasion in Dade County, a student named Ingraham was given more than 20 licks on the buttocks from a 2' X 4' X 1/2" paddle. (Witnesses disagree about the exact number.) The student had been accused of being slow to respond to the teacher's orders to leave the stage of the auditorium. The injury was so severe that the boy required medical attention for the bruises on has body and remained out of school for eleven days. A second student, Andrews, had been paddled several times for such offenses as being late to class, making noise, "fooling around," and not having his tennis shoes for gym class. Andrews was struck on the arms on two occasions, losing the use of has arm for a week.


(1) Is the administration of corporal punishment in the schools "cruel and unusual punishment" as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

(2) If corporal punishment is constitutional, are parlor notice and an opportunity to be heard required under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

No. The Eighth Amendment does NOT apply to paddling in the schools, and no, a notice and a hearing are not required in order to satisfy the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This was as close a decision as there can be, with the nine justices splitting their votes five to four.

The U.S. Supreme Court stated that the Eighth Amendment is intended to protect the rights of people convicted of crimes against the state, not school children with disciplinary problems. Schools are open institutions, where children can leave at the end of the day, and schools are supervised by the community. Also, ordinary paddling neither violates any substantive rights nor causes a student to suffer any grievous loss.

To require notice and a hearing for every corporal punishment case would "significantly burden the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure", according to Justice Powell. In extraordinary cases where the teacher or school official inflicts too hush a punishment, the parents can sue for civil damages and the state can charge the teacher or the school official with assault and battery. In these extraordinary cases of excessive punishment, the student's Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests are protected by the other available remedies, such as civil suits against the teacher or criminal charges. The Court noted that procedural safeguards are desirable but not required.

One of the four dissenting justices, Justice White, expressed concern about the severity of the beatings in this case: "the record reveals beatings so severe that if they were inflicted on a hardened criminal for the commission of a serious crime, they might not pass constitutional muster." He did not suggest that spanking in the public schools is in every instance prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, but he did not understand why such severe punishment, unacceptable in a civilized society, becomes more acceptable just because it is inflicted on children in the public schools. Justice White also considered it a denial of due process to allow the state "to punish first and hear the student's version of events later," which was in effect the result of the decision in this case that due process did not require prior notice and a hearing before the infliction of punishment, but that students could file civil suits or criminal complaints afterwards. (PATCH - See Below)

Student Newspapers - Censorship

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) - Students Rights

Kathy Kuhimeier and two other journalism students wrote articles on pregnancy and divorce for their school newspaper. Their teacher submitted page proofs to the principal for approval. The principal objected to the articles because he felt that the students described in the article on pregnancy, although not named, could be identified, and the father discussed in the article on divorce was not allowed to respond to the derogatory article. The principal also said that the language used was not appropriate for younger students. When the newspaper was printed, two pages containing the articles in question as well as four otherarticles approved by the principal were deleted.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Hazelwood School District did not violate the First Amendment right of the students. The Court ruled that School officials need not tolerate speech which is inconsistent with the school's basic educational mission. The Court distinguished this case from the Tinker decision (school officials could not punish students for wearing armbands in protest of the Vietnam war "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate") because the Tinker case involved a student's personal expression. This was, instead, a school newspaper, and as such could reasonably be perceived to bear the "imprimatur" of the school. They justified this because the publication of Spectrum was a part of the curriculum, i.e., it was in the curriculum guide as a part of the Journalism course, it was taught during school hours by a faculty member, the students received grades and academic credit, the faculty advisor exercised control over the publication, and the principal had to review it. The school's policies did not reflect an intent to expand the students' rights by converting a curricular newspaper into a public forum. The court further added that the principal's fears were reasonable: he was concerned that the students' identities could not be assured, that the privacy interests of boyfriends and parents were not adequately protected, and that parents mentioned in the divorce article were not given an opportunity to defend themselves. (Hardin)

Search and Seizure

New Jersey v T.L.O. (1984)

Two students were found smoking in the girls bathroom. One student confessed but the other, T.L.O. (her initials), denied smoking. In fact, T.L.O. claimed she did not smoke at all. The school Assistant Principal then proceeded to search T.L.O.'s purse. In the purse he found Marijuana in small bags, rolling paper, a large amount of cash and a list of names who owed T.L.O. money. The police were summoned and T.L.O. was arrested. T.L.O. was convicted and through the appeals process the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. T.L.O. claimed that the search of her purse violated her Constitutional rights.

The Court ruled against T.L.O. setting new standards for school officials. The Court ruled that school officials may search a student under "reasonable suspicion." The standard is less than that required of police therefore giving school officials much broader search powers under the fourth amendment.

Civil Rights

Plessey v Ferguson (1896)

Homer Plessey, a member of a citizens group protesting the Jim Crow laws that created segregation in the south, was arrested for violating the law that forced Blacks to ride in separate train cars. Plessey claimed that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive "equal protection under the law." The state argued that Plessey and other Blacks did receive equal treatment, just separate.

Plessey's conviction of a violation of Jim Crow laws has upheld by the Court. The Court ruled that the 14th amendment did say that Blacks had the right to the same facilities, just equal facilities. By ruling this way the court created the doctrine of "separate but equal."


Brown v Board of Ed. Topeka Kansas (1954)

Linda Brown, a student in the segregated Topeka Kansas school district had to walk 5 miles to school each day. Across the train tracks from her house there was a white school she was unable to attend. Oliver Brown enlisted the help of the NAACP to ensure that his daughter was able to go to the best school possible. Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP, challenged the segregation of the school claiming that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive "equal protection under the law." The state argued that Plessey v Ferguson had set the precedent and that the laws was clear on this point.

The court affirmed the position of Marshall and the Brown family and overturned the precedent set by the Plessey decision. Justice Earl Warren claimed that "in the eyes of the law, justice was color-blind." In ruling in favor of Brown the court ordered the integration of America "with all deliberate speed." The civil rights movement had begun!

 Affirmative Action in College Admissions

University of California Regents v Bakke (1976)

Alan Bakke, an engineer with high grades, applied to several medical schools in the hopes of one day becoming a doctor. Bakke was rejected by all of the schools he applied to but the University of California at Davis encouraged him to apply again. The next year Bakke again applied and was again rejected. Bakke then found out that the University's affirmative action program reserved 17 places for minority candidates regardless of qualifications. Bakke sued the University claiming that he was the victim of "reverse discrimination." The university argued that the creation of quotas was needed to ensure minority admission to college under their affirmative action program.

In a two part ruling the court ordered Bakke to be admitted to medical school. The court ruled that Bakke had, in fact, been discriminated against. The court did, however, uphold the legality of affirmative action programs. The court cited Harvard Universities affirmative action program that created guidelines for admission rather than strict quotas.

Freedom of Religion

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Standing During The Pledge

During World War II, the West Virginia Board of Education ordered that the flag salute become a regular part of the program of activities in the public schools. A group of children belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses refused to obey the flag salute order on the ground that their religious beliefs forbade them to bow down or to serve graven images. Their parents offered substitute pledges which did not make the flag an "image", but the state refused. The children were expelled. Their parents were prosecuted and threatened with prosecution for causing their children's delinquency.

Does requiring students to salute the flag when it is forbidden by their religion violate the free exercise clause of the First

Amendment? Yes, compelling the flag salute and pledge "transcends constitutional limitations on the state's power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which" is reserved from state control by the First Amendment.

The Court thus reversed a decision made three years earlier in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 60 S. Ct. 1010 (1940), in which they upheld the required flag salute as a means to achieve national cohesion. In Barnette, Justice Jackson wrote that the compulsory flag salute is a futile attempt at coherence. He emphasized that the Bill of Rights denies to those in power any legal opportunity to coerce the consent of the governed: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters or opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." Three justices dissented, arguing that parents have the option to send their children to nonpubllc schools. Justice Frankfurter warned that minorities can disrupt civil society and there is NOTHING in the Constitution which subordinates "the general civil authority of the state to sectarian scruples." In dealing with the interpretation of laws, judges must exercise self-restraint, and the Jehovah's Witnesses should have tried to persuade West Virginia to exclude them from the required flag salute, he argued. (PATCH - See Below)


Engle v Vitale (1962)

School Prayer

In the late 1950's the New York State Board of Regents wrote and adopted a prayer which was supposed to be nondenominational. The board recommended that the prayer be said by students in public schools on a voluntary basis every morning. In New Hyde Park Long Island a parent sued the school claiming that the prayer violated the first amendment of the constitution. The school argued that the prayer was nondenominational and did not attempt to "establish or endorse" a religion and thus that it did not violate the establishment clause.

The court ruled against the school district and upheld the establishment clause of the first amendment. Prayer in schools was to be considered unconstitutional.


Abington v Schempp (1963)

School Prayer

This case involved a Pennsylvania law requiring that at least ten Bible verses be read in public schools at the beginning of each day. The Schempps, a family in Abington, sued the school district for violating the first amendment of the constitution.

Just as in Engle v Vitale, religious instruction in school was deemed to violate the 1st amendment of the constitution.


Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)

Teaching The Theory of Evolution

An Arkansas statute forbade teachers in public schools from teaching the "theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals." A teacher determined that the law was in valid and lost her job for violating it. The Supreme Court of the United States was called in to review this statute which made it unlawful for teachers in state schools to teach human evolution .

At issue was whether the Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because of its religious purpose.

The Court held that the Arkansas statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in public learning institutions was contrary to the freedom of religion mandate of the First Amendment, and was also in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court ruled that a state may not eliminate ideas from a school's curricula solely because the ideas come in conflict with the beliefs of certain religious groups. In this case, the law that compelled the evolution doctrine to be removed from the course of study was passed to agree with the religious point­of­view of certain fundamentalists. Thus, the reason for removing the doctrine was to aid a religious point­of­view and, therefore, was violative of the First Amendment. The Court said that the law must require religious neutrality. (PATCH - See Below)


Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)

Moment of Silence

The parents of three children attending public school in Alabama challenged the constitutionality of an Alabama law which authorized a one minute period of silence in all public schools for meditation or voluntary prayer. At issue was whether the Alabama law requiring a one minute silence period encouraged a religious activity in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Alabama law was a law respecting the establishment of religion and thus violated the First Amendment. The Court said that the First Amendment was adopted to limit the power of Congress to interfere with a person's freedom to believe, worship, and express himself as his conscience tells him. The Amendment gives an individual the right to choose a religion without having to accept a religion established by the majority or by government.

The Court said that government must be completely neutral toward religion and not endorse any religion. Therefore, statutes like the Alabama law requiring one minute for silence in the schools must have a secular or non­religious purpose to be within the Constitution. Since Senator Holmes, who was the primary sponsor of the bill, testified "that the bill was an effort to return voluntary prayer to our public schools," the Court decided that the purpose of the Alabama law was to endorse religion and was solely an effort to return voluntary prayer to the public schools. It was, therefore, struck down as being inconsistent with the Constitution. (PATCH - See Below)


Lee v. Weisman (1992)

Graduation Excercises

Principals of public middle and high schools in Providence, Rhode Island, are permitted to invite members of the clergy to give invocations and benedictions at their schools' graduation ceremonies. Petitioner Lee, a middle school principal, invited a rabbi to offer such prayers at the graduation ceremony for Deborah Weisman's class, gave the Rabbi a pamphlet containing guidelines for the composition of public prayers at civic ceremonies, and advised him that the prayers should be nonsectarian. Shortly before the ceremony, the District Court denied the motion of respondent Weisman, Deborah's father, for a temporary restraining order to prohibit school officials from including the prayers in the ceremony. Deborah and her family attended the ceremony, and the prayers were recited.

Subsequently, Weisman sought a permanent injunction barring Lee and other petitioners, various Providence public school officials, from inviting clergy to deliver invocations and benedictions at future graduations. It appears likely that such prayers will be conducted at Deborah's high school graduation.

 At issue is the whether or not prayers led by clergy at public school graduation ceremonies violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? In this case the court ruled, yes. Including clergy who offer prayers as part of an official public school graduation ceremony is forbidden by the Establishment Clause. The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause, which guarantees at a minimum that a government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.

State officials here direct the performance of a formal religious exercise at secondary schools' promotional and graduation ceremonies. Lee's decision that prayers should be given and his selection of the religious participant are choices attributable to the State. Moreover, through the pamphlet and his advice that the prayers be nonsectarian, he directed and controlled the prayers' content. That the directions may have been given in a good faith attempt to make the prayers acceptable to most persons does not resolve the dilemma caused by the school's involvement, since the government may not establish an official or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific creeds.

From the decision:

The Establishment Clause was inspired by the lesson that in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce. Prayer exercises in elementary and secondary schools carry a particular risk of indirect coercion. The school district's supervision and control of a high school graduation ceremony places subtle and indirect public and peer pressure on attending students to stand as a group or maintain respectful silence during the invocation and benediction. A reasonable dissenter of high school age could believe that standing or remaining silent signified her own participation in, or approval of, the group exercise, rather than her respect for it.

The State may not place the student dissenter in the dilemma of participating or protesting. Since adolescents are often susceptible to peer pressure, especially in matters of social convention, the State may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use direct means. The embarrassment and intrusion of the religious exercise cannot be refuted by arguing that the prayers are of a de minimis character, since that is an affront to the Rabbi and those for whom the prayers have meaning, and since any intrusion was both real and a violation of the objectors' rights.

Petitioners' argument that the option of not attending the ceremony excuses any inducement or coercion in the ceremony itself is rejected. In this society, high school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions, and a student is not free to absent herself from the exercise in any real sense of the term voluntary. It also gives insufficient recognition to the real conflict of conscience faced by a student who would have to choose whether to miss graduation or conform to the state-sponsored practice, in an environment where the risk of compulsion is especially high. (Hardin)

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Mandatory Attendance

The Wisconsin compulsory attendance law requires that children attend public or private schools until the age of 16. Jonas Yoder, a member of the Old Order Amish religion, refused to send his daughter Frieda to school following her graduation from eighth grade. He was fined $5. There were two other parents and children who were also fined.

A basic tenet of the Amish faith is that religion pervades all life and that salvation requires living in a church community apart from worldly Influence. They object to public secondary schools because the high school tends to emphasize intellectual and scientific accomplishments, self- distinction, competitiveness, worldly success, and social life with other students. Amish society emphasizes a life of "goodness" rather than intellect, "wisdom" rather than technical knowledge, and community welfare rather than competition. The conflict between worldly and nonworldly values, they argued, would do psychological harm to the Amish children.

Do compulsory school attendance laws, effective beyond eighth grade, violate the rights of the Amish to free exercise of their religion? The Court ruled that to force the Amish to comply with the compulsory attendance law means that they must either leave the state or risk the loss of their children to a secular society. The Court reasoned that, "A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different." The Amish offer their children an "ideal" vocational education, instilling in them the social and political responsibilities of citizenship. There was nothing to indicate that the health, safety, or welfare of the children have been endangered by the actions of their parents. Justice Douglas dissented with regard to two of the three children because they did not testify as to their own views: "These children are 'persons' within the meaning of the Bill of Rights.... It is the future of the student, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today's decision. The child, therefore, should be given an opportunity to be heard before the State gives the exemption which we honor today." (Hardin)

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)

Seperation of Church and State - The Establishment Clause

The State of Pennsylvania reimbursed non-public schools for their expenditures for teachers' salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials. The conditions were that the courses taught must be secular, similar to those presented in the public school curriculum, and the instructional materials were required to be approved by the State.

At issue was whether or not the payment of salary supplements or reimbursements to non-public, often parochial schools violated the clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibited governments from making laws establishing religion.

These laws were unconstitutional. The effect of these laws was "excessive entanglement" between government and religion.

Writing for the majority of the Court, Chief Justice Burger outlined a three-prong test for "es tablishment of religion" cases, termed "The Neutrality Doctrine":

(1) Purpose: The statute must have a secular (non--religious) purpose;

(2) Effect: The principle or primary effect of the statute must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and

(3) Entanglement: The statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

This case passed the first test, i.e., the purpose of the statute was secular and not religious; its legislative intent was to improve the quality of education. However, its cumulative effect amounted to excessive entanglement with religion. Justice White dissented, arguing that the fact that religion may benefit indirectly from govern ment assistance does not breach the wall of separation between church and state. (PATCH - See Below)

Teacher Speech and Association

Adler v. Board of Education (1952)

The Feinberg Law was enacted in New York "to protect the children" from the Communist influence. Membership in specified "Communist" organizations which advocate the overthrow of the government by force, violence, or unlawful means disqualified public teachers from employment.

Does a law that authorizes the dismissal of teachers who are members of certain subversive organizations violate their freedoms of speech and assembly? No, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the state may properly inquire into teacher's associations to determine their fitness and loyalty. The Court reasoned that a teacher shapes the attitudes of young minds towards the society in which they live, and "in this, the state has a vital concern." If a person is disqualified from employment because of his or her membership in a subversive organization, that person is not denied the right of free speech and assembly. The person's freedom of choice between membership in the organization and employment in the school system might be limited, but not his or her freedom of speech or assembly. The member by his or her membership, supports what the organization stands for, namely, the overthrow of the government by unlawful means, so there is no denial of due process. The dissenting justices frowned upon a law which "effectively penalizes school teachers for their thoughts and their associates." (Hardin)


Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967)

Keyishian and other faculty members of the State University of New York refused to sign certificates which stated they were not Communists and that if they had ever been Communists, they had informed the school's president of that fact. Keyishian's teaching contract was not renewed, and the others' jobs were in danger.

Is it constitutional to bar employment to teachers because of their membership in subversive organizations? No, mere membership without a specific intent to further the unlawful aims of an organization is not a constitutionally adequate basis for excluding people from teaching positions. The Court argued that the law presumes that a teacher is not qualified if he or she is a member of subversive organization, and that presumption may be rebutted only by:

(a) a denial of membership;

(b) a denial that the organization advocates the overthrow of the government; and

(c) a denial that the teacher has knowledge of such advocacy.

As a result, proof of inactive membership or a lack of intent to further the organization's unlawful aims will not rebut the presumption. dismissing a teacher who lacks the subversive intent would violate that person's rights to free association and due process. Four justices also dissented from this decision. They would have given a ruling consistent with the Adler decision, in which this law was declared constitutional. (Hardin)


Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)

High school teacher Marvin Pickering was dismissed from his job for sending a letter to a local newspaper. In the letter, he criticized the way in which the school board and the superintendent of schools had handled proposals to raise money for the schools and their allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs. Some of the assertions in the letter were proven to be wrong. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the board's action.

Does the dismissal of a teacher for publicly expressing his opinion about the school administration violate his First Amendment right to freedom of speech? Yes. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court and held that, absent proof that the teacher knowingly or recklessly made false statements, he may not be dismissed for exercising his right to free speech. The Court reasoned that this teacher was due the same privilege as any taxpayer, especially since Pickering was speaking about matters of public record (and of which he had no special knowledge) in a public forum, the newspaper. (Hardin)

Mt. Healthy v. Doyle (1977)

An untenured teacher named Doyle informed the disc jockey at a Cincinnati radio station about a memorandum on teacher dress and appearance, and the disc jockey announced it as a news item. Doyle had also been involved in several "disruptive" incidents, including arguments with other school employees and questionable conduct towards students. The school board decided not to renew his contract for the next year.

Is a teacher's communication about school policy to a radio station protected by the First Amendment? Yes, but the teacher can show that his conduct was constitutionally protected and that this conduct was a substantial and motivating factor in the school board's decision not to rehire the teacher. If the teacher can show that his conduct was constitutionally protected and that this conduct was a substantial and motivating factor in the school board's decision not to rehire the teacher, the board must then show by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision regarding the teacher's re-employment even in the absence of the protected conduct. Without such a showing, the board's action in dismissing the teacher would violate his right to free speech under the First Amendment. (Hardin)


Anderson v. Evans (6th Cir. 1981)

Evelyn Anderson, a white tenured school teacher in Haywood County, Tennessee, was terminated for "conduct unbecoming a teacher" and "inefficiency". She had taught in the predominantly black school system for several years and was assigned to teach in an elementary school whose student body was all black. Following the robbery and assault of her daughter by black youths, she was accused of making remarks to the school's principal and assistant principal to the effect that she "hated" all black people and cared nothing about them. She forced the termination of a black aide assigned to her. Her evaluations indicated a deterioration in her teaching ability through the year, and she was eventually dismissed.

Does the firing of a teacher for alleged racial remarks and poor job performance, under these circumstances, violate her rights to expression and due process? No. Disposing of the due process argument with a finding that the charges against Mrs. Anderson were clear and that she was given a hearing, the court upheld the school's action, even though it effectively limited her speech. Acknowledging the Pickering and Mt. Healthy decisions, the U.S. Court of Appeals discerned a two-step analysis when a public employee alleges retaliation for the exercise of her freedom of speech: if the employer's action effectively limits the employee's speech, then "a balance must be struck between the interest of the employee as an individual and the public interest served by the employer". (Unlike Pickering, this case is one where the employee's actions and remarks cast serious doubt about her judgment and competence as a teacher. "The circumstances of this case gave the school board an interest in limiting Mrs. Anderson's freedom of expression which it could not have claimed with respect to the general public." In a strong dissent, one judge argued that the balancing test had not been applied properly in the trial court. (Hardin)

Special Thanks to:

Julia P. Hardin,

Project PATCH, Northport HS -

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