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Which First Amendment rights do students retain at school-sponsored social events?

At school-sponsored social events, the conduct and regulation of students have constitutional implications.

In particular, issues involving gay and lesbian students wishing to bring a date of the same sex to school social events have raised controversy. In one case, for example, a senior male student wanted to bring a male date to the senior banquet. The school rejected the student’s request, citing fears of violence against the couple.

The school’s rationale, however, did not convince the court, which found that a same-sex couple attending a school function was an expressive act, and as such was protected by the First Amendment. As to claims of possible violence, the judge stated:

I have concluded that even a legitimate interest in school discipline does not outweigh a student’s right to peacefully express his views in an appropriate time, place, and manner. To rule otherwise would completely subvert free speech in the schools by granting other students a "heckler's veto," allowing them to decide through prohibited and violent methods what speech will be heard. The First Amendment does not tolerate mob rule by unruly school children.1


1 Fricke v. Lynch, 491 F. Supp. 381 (D.R.I. 1980). It is important to note that this case was appealed to the First Circuit where it was dismissed as moot.

Last updated: Friday, February 12, 2016 | 23:26:17