Freedom of Speech Resources


Speech in School

385 US 589 (1967)
Warren Court

Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967)

Harry Keyishian, an English instructor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, was fired along with several of his colleagues when he refused to sign statements required by the State of New York and the university that he was not a communist. The Supreme Court struck down the provisions in the Civil Service Law and the Education Law that required such statements and that punished "seditious ... utterances." In its majority decision, the Court maintained that there is a higher degree of First Amendment protection in the university than in society.


Campus Speech Codes

Beginning in the late 1980s, colleges and universities around the country began to institute policies aiming to protect students from offensive and harassing speech. Most of the policies included restrictions on speech that the Supreme Court would not permit of federal or state government. While the legal right of private schools to adopt such policies is for the most part undisputed, the enactment of speech codes in public universities is a matter of continuing controversy. While no case has gone to the Supreme Court, a federal district court struck down a speech code at the University of Michigan as early as 1989, and since then speech code challenges have been consistently successful in lower courts. Despite the uniformity of case law, speech codes have continued to proliferate in various forms, and have continued to generate controversy. Aside from the legal question of the constitutionality of speech codes in public universities, the presence of such policies even in private schools has raised the objection that institutions of higher education ought to be committed to freedom of speech in an even broader sense than that of the First Amendment.

445 F.3d 1166 (2006)
9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Harper v. Poway Unified School District (2006)

Harper v. Poway is a case that raises the question of First Amendment protection in public high schools. In a California high school with a history of conflict over sexual orientation, the student-led Gay-Straight Alliance was allowed to conduct a day of silence, during which a student named Tyler Harper wore a T-shirt which read “I WILL NOT ACCEPT WHAT GOD HAS CONDEMNED” on the front and “HOMOSEXUALITY IS SHAMEFUL ‘Romans 1:27’” on the back. Though Harper was not disciplined, he was required by the school Principal to remain in her office throughout the day as long as he refused to take it off. Harper subsequently sued the school, but lost the case.

721 F. Supp. 852 (E.D. Mich 1989)
District Court: Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

Doe v. University of Michigan (1989)

Doe v. Michigan was the first case challenging the "speech codes" began to be adopted in colleges and universities around the country beginning in the 1980s. Due to a proliferation of incidents involving racism, the University of Michigan instituted in 1988 a “Policy on Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment,” which prohibited any behavior, including speech, that "stigmatizes or victimizes" someone on the basis of their identity. An unnamed psychology graduate student ("John Doe") challenged the policy on First Amendment grounds and it was struck down by a federal district court on the for being "overbroad," or restricting speech that did not fall under the commonly recognized exceptions to First Amendment protections.