Important scholastic media law cases

Dean v. Utica

This Michigan case reaffirmed the importance of being a forum by policy or practice. CLICK HERE for an article by John and Candace Bowen on why this case is important.

  • Mike Hiestand answers some frequently asked questions in this National Scholastic Press Association article. CLICK HERE
  • First Amendment Press / Free Speech Timeline compiled by Joyce Gemperlein, special to J-Ideas CLICK HERE
  • November 2004 SPLC summary of the case: “Court releases opinion on Utica high school censorship case.” CLICK HERE.
  • “Pressing Standards: Student Journalist Schools Administration Censors” Jason Simms writes in this Feb. 28, 2007 article for The Stranger. CLICK HERE

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

In a 2007 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use. Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion held that although students do have some right to political speech even while in school, this right does not extend to pro-drug messages that may undermine the school’s important mission to discourage drug use. The majority held that Frederick’s message, though “cryptic,” was reasonably interpreted as promoting marijuana use – equivalent to “[Take] bong hits” or “bong hits [are a good thing].” In ruling for Morse, the Court affirmed that the speech rights of public school students are not as extensive as those adults normally enjoy, and that the highly protective standard set by Tinker would not always be applied. In concurring opinions, Justice Thomas expressed his view that the right to free speech does not apply to students and his wish to see Tinker overturned altogether, while Justice Alito stressed that the decision applied only to pro-drug messages and not to broader political speech. The dissent conceded that the principal should have had immunity from the lawsuit, but argued that the majority opinion was “[…] deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students […].”

  • Justices to Hear Landmark Free-Speech Case: Defiant Message Spurs Most Significant Student 1st Amendment Test in Decades” CLICK HERE for this March 13, 2007 Washington Post article by Robert Barnes
  • “Up in Smoke at the High Court.” CLICK HERE for this March 20, 2007 article from the Washington Post by Dana Milbank
  • CLICK HERE for the Supreme Court media summary of the case from The Oyez Project.
  • Supreme Court rules in Bong Hits case in this 2007 Student Press Law Center article. CLICK HERE
  • “Ruling ‘Bong Hits’ out of bounds,” Reynolds Holding reports in this 2007 Time magazine article. CLICK HERE
  • “From Facebook to yearbook, teens get a jolt,” Daniel de Vise reports in this 2007 Washington Post article. CLICK HERE
  • “Supreme Court Rules Against Student In ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Case: Decision tightens limits on students’ right to free speech.” CLICK HERE for this 2007 article from MTV news by Chris Harris.
  • “Supreme Court Rules Against Student in ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Case” CLICK HERE — for this 2007 article from PBS Teachers by Andy Carvin.
  • “Supreme Court Rules Against Student in ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Case” — CLICK HERE for this 2007 Associated Press article.
  • “Supreme Court: No pro-drug speech in schools” — CLICK HERE for this 2007 blog entry in the Chicago Times online Washington bureau by Frank James.
  • Experts say Alito key factor in ‘Bong Hits’ decision an article from the Student Press Law Center CLICK HERE
  • U.S. Supreme Court denies school’s petition to hear anti-Bush T-shirt case, this 2007 article from the Student Press Law Center reports. CLICK HERE
  • Bong Hits 4 Jesus – The Game from Students for Sensible Drug Policy CLICK HERE
  • From the Wall Street Journal by Daniel Henninger: “Bong Hits 4 Jesus—Explained: Will the justices overturn Tinker? Nah, they’ll just tinker.” CLICK HERE
  • “Supreme Court Rules Against ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Student: Ruling Narrows Student Right to Free Speech” ABC News reports in this 2007 article by Araine deVogue CLICK HERE
  • “Commentary: Beyond the schoolhouse gate” in this June 25, 2007 blog from the Supreme Court of the United States by Lyle Denniston CLICK HERE
  • “Kirkland & Ellis LLP Announces U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Closely-Watched First Amendment Student Speech Case” — a press release from the attorneys in the case. CLICK HERE

Draudt v. Wooster City School District

This Ohio case reaffirmed the concept of the forum as a legitimate means of protection against censorship, at least in the Sixth Circuit. CLICK HERE to read the actual case.

  • General information on the case from the Student Press Law Center CLICK HERE
  • Wooster decision clarifies censorship guidelines: Blade’s ‘lost’ decision actually improves outlook for high school press freedom” in this 2003 article for the National Scholastic Press Association by Mike Hiestand. CLICK HERE
  • “Superintendent orders high school newspapers seized” CLICK HERE for this Dec. 23, 2002 Associated Press article
  • “Transparency for the Student Press: When Practice Makes Perfect…Sense” an academic paper presented in 2006 by Thomas E. Eveslage, professor of journalism at Temple University CLICK HERE

Yeo v. Lexington

This case, involving speech interests on both sides, arises from the decision of two public high school student publications — the newspaper and yearbook — not to publish an advertisement. The advertisement promoted sexual abstinence and was proffered by a parent, Douglas Yeo, in the aftermath of a decision by the Lexington, Mass. School Committee to make condoms available to students as a public health matter. Yeo had campaigned against the condom distribution policy and lost. The two high school student publications declined to publish the advertisement on the grounds that each had a policy, albeit unwritten, of not running political or advocacy advertisements.

  • “Court refuses to hear advertiser: Yeo v. Lexington ends after four-year fight over ad rejection.” CLICK HERE to read this 1998 article by the Student Pres Law Center.
  • Yeo v Lexington case information from the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. CLICK HERE.
  • “The Safety, the Security and the Sanctuary” by Douglas Yeo. This column, under the title “Let Us Live to Make Men Free,” originally appeared in a significantly abridged version in The Lexington Minuteman June 18, 1998. CLICK HERE
  • United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit CLICK HERE

Bethel School District No. 403 et al. v. Fraser, a minor, et. al.

The Court found that it was appropriate for the school to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive language. Chief Justice Burger distinguished between political speech which the Court previously had protected in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) and the supposed sexual content of Fraser’s message at the assembly. Burger concluded that the First Amendment did not prohibit schools from prohibiting vulgar and lewd speech since such discourse was inconsistent with the “fundamental values of public school education.”

Owasso Independent School Dist. No. I011 v. Falvo

In a unanimous opinion delivered Feb. 19, 2002 by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court held that peer grading does not violate FERPA. The Court reasoned that peer-graded items did not constitute education records protected by FERPA until a teacher collected the grades on the students’ papers or other items and recorded the grades in the teacher’s grade book. In reaching its conclusion, the Court noted that peer-graded items were not “maintained” within in the meaning of FERPA, as the student graders only handled the items for a few moments. Moreover, the Court stated that each student grader, by grading assignments, did not constitute a person acting for an educational institution within FERPA

  • General information on FERPA CLICK HERE
  • Owasso Independent School Dist. No. I011 v. Falvo summary from the Supreme Court of the United States Media. CLICK HERE
  • Findlawversion of the opinion written by Justice Kennedy. CLICK HERE
  • “Peer Grading vs. Privacy: The Supreme Court Rules,” a 2002 Education World article by Linda Starr CLICK HERE
  • ” Supreme Court decision in peer grading case should benefit student journalists: Justices clarify privacy law, determine students are not agents of schools.” CLICK HERE for this Student Press Law Center article from 2002.
  • An introduction to Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) from Dec. 12, 2004 from NMI – Enterprise and Desktop Integration Technologies (EDIT) Consortium CLICK HERE


  • Cases and resources from the First Amendment Center CLICK HERE
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