First Liberty Briefing: Can Students Claim First Amendment Rights Violations If They Use Vulgar Speech?

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Can Students Claim First Amendment Rights Violations If They Use Vulgar Speech?

In 1983, a Bethel High School student proudly nominated his friend for a student government position and used vulgar language while doing so. Learn what the Supreme Court said about regulating student speech and expression by visiting


Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

Matthew Fraser was a dedicated friend.

Students Claim First Amendment Rights Violations

Matthew Fraser in front of Bethel High School (Image: Glogster)

In April of 1983, the Bethel High School student took to the stage of a school assembly to proudly nominate his friend for a student government position. As about 600 high school students listened, he . . . well, perhaps the best way to describe his speech is to quote Justice Burger’s description of it. He wrote,

“Fraser referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.”

Well, you can probably spot the problem. Bethel, like a lot of high schools had a policy against the use of lewd, obscene, and profane language.

So, the next morning, the school informed Fraser that he had broken the rules and would be appropriately disciplined.

Fraser didn’t like that. He claimed, in a federal lawsuit, that the policy violated his First Amendment rights.

But, the Supreme Court disagreed.

The court explained that, while students retain First Amendment freedoms at school, school officials may still prevent vulgar and lewd speech—like Fraser’s—that undermines the educational mission of the school.

Bethel School District v. Fraser reminds us that school officials can permit student religious speech and expression without losing the ability to regulate vulgar student speech that undermines the educational mission of the school.

School officials who try to censor student religious speech face an uphill battle.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit

 First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central

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