Bethel School District No. v. Fraser (403 )
Jeff Held Firm Convictions, Harsh Punishments For "obscene" Language, Students Are Persons Too
Bethel School District in Pierce County, Washington State
Matthew Fraser, a student at Bethel High School
School authorities should be permitted to discipline students that use language those authorities consider offensive.
Chief Lawyers for Petitioner
William A. Coats, Clifford D. Foster, Jr.
Chief Lawyers for Respondent
Jeffrey T. Haley and Charles S. Sims
Justices for the Court
Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger (writing for the Court), Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Byron R. White
Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens
Date of Decision
7 July 1986
The First Amendment did not prevent school authorities from disciplining Matthew Fraser for giving an "offensively lewd and indecent speech." School disciplinary codes only have to describe offenses in general terms; they need not be as detailed as a criminal code, which imposes harsh punishments.
Bethel was only the second case dealing with the legal rights of students. The Court ruled that students do not enjoy the full protection accorded to adults. Schools may limit student speech both to prevent disruption and also to instill fundamental values.
- Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
Epstein, Lee, and Thomas G. Walker. Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties, and Justice. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1995.
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