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Burnside v. Byars, 363 F.2d 744 (5th Cir. 1966)

Facts:
A group of public school students at an all-black school in Philadelphia, Mississippi wore "freedom buttons" to school to protest racial segregation in the state. The school principal ordered the students to remove the buttons. The principal believed that the buttons would "cause commotion" and "disturb the school program." When several students continued to wear the buttons, the principal suspended them for a week.

Issue:
Whether school officials could suspend students for wearing "freedom buttons."

Holding:
By a 3-0 vote, a Fifth Circuit panel held that school officials could not prohibit the wearing of the "freedom buttons" because there was no evidence that the buttons would have caused a substantial disruption.

Reasoning:
The record demonstrates that there was no commotion or disruption caused by the wearing of the buttons. "The record indicates only a showing of mild curiosity on the part of the other school children over the presence of some 30 or 40 children wearing such insignia." Because the wearing of buttons did not cause a disruption, the regulation preventing the wearing of such buttons is "arbitrary and unreasonable."

Majority:
"But with all of this in mind we must also emphasize that school officials cannot ignore expressions of feelings with which they do not wish to contend. They cannot infringe on their students' right to free and unrestricted expression as guaranteed to them under the First Amendment to the Constitution, where the exercise of such rights in the school buildings and schoolrooms do not materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school." (Judge Walter Gewin)



Last updated: Saturday, November 22, 2014 | 11:50:19