student rights, free speech, student speech


In the late 1960s, the Supreme Court began contemplating how the First Amendment’s commitment to “the freedom of speech” should protect the right of students to introduce their own ideas into the schoolhouse. This constitutional question extended well beyond the matter addressed in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, because that opinion—momentous though it was—held simply that students could refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But Barnette did not establish that students possessed an affirmative right to advance their own opinions, on topics of their own selection, much less in the face of school officials’ objections. The right to sit out, in other words, did not necessarily confer the right to speak out.