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Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)

Facts:
After several of its members attended a conservative educational conference, an upstate New York school board determined that nine books in a high school library, including Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Black Boy by Richard Wright, should be removed because they were inappropriate for young people. Several students and parents challenged the school board’s decision to remove these books from the library.

Issue:
Whether school officials can, consistent with the First Amendment, remove books from a school library because they find the books inappropriate or objectionable.

Holding:
By a 5-4 vote, the Court held that school officials cannot remove books from a school library simply because they find the ideas in the books objectionable.

Reasoning:
The First Amendment protects the right to receive information and ideas. A school library is a special place, "the principal locus of such freedom." The First Amendment prohibits the suppression of material simply because government officials, including school officials, dislike the material. "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of public opinion'"

Majority:
"[T]he special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students." (Justice William Brennan)

Dissent:
The dissent argued that federal courts should not superimpose their judgments about what books should be included in school libraries. "Were this to become the law this Court would come perilously close to becoming a 'super censor' of school board library decisions." (Chief Justice Warren Burger)

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Last updated: Friday, September 19, 2014 | 09:12:55