The case was decided 5 to 3. Justice Brennan, with whom Justice
Marshall and Justice Blackmun join, wrote the dissenting opinion.
When the young men and women of Hazelwood East High School registered
for Journalism II, they expected a civics lesson. Spectrum, the
newspaper they were to publish, ". . . was a . . . forum established to
give students an opportunity to express their views while gaining an
appreciation of their rights and responsibilities under the First
Amendment to the United States Constitution. . . .
"If mere incompatibility with the school's pedagogical message were a
constitutionally sufficient justification for the suppression of
student speech, school officials could censor each of the students or
student organizations in the foregoing hypotheticals, converting our
public schools into "enclaves of totalitarianism," . . . that "strangle
the free mind at its source," . . . The First Amendment permits no such
blanket censorship authority. While the "constitutional rights of
students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the
rights of adults in other settings," Fraser, supra, at 682, students in
the public schools do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom
of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Tinker, supra, at 506.
Just as the public on the street corner must, in the interest of
fostering "enlightened opinion," . . . tolerate speech that "tempt[s]
[the listener] to throw [the speaker] off the street," . . . public
educators must accommodate some student expression even if it offends
them or offers views or values that contradict those the school wishes
In Tinker, this Court struck the balance. We held that official
censorship of student expression—there the suspension of several
students until they removed their armbands protesting the Vietnam war—is
unconstitutional unless the speech "materially disrupts classwork or
involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others. . . .
Official censorship of student speech on the ground that it addresses
"potentially sensitive topics" is . . . impermissible. . . . The case
before us aptly illustrates how readily school officials (and courts)
can camouflage viewpoint discrimination as the "mere" protection of
students from sensitive topics. . . .
. . . Such unthinking contempt for individual rights is intolerable
from any state official. It is particularly insidious from one to whom
the public entrusts the task of inculcating in its youth an appreciation
for the cherished democratic liberties that our Constitution
Questions to Consider
Justice Brennan says that the Spectrum was a "forum" for student expression. From what you read in the majority opinion, why is this an important distinction?
What does Justice Brennan fear will happen if schools are allowed to
censor material that differs from their pedagogical message?
What did the Tinker decision say? What does Justice Brennan think of that decision? Do you agree or disagree with him? Why?