Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 39: Expression in Special Places

Chapter Overviews

The law recognizes only a limited right to exercise freedom of speech in schools, on military bases, and in prisons. First Amendment rights are granted in these special places as long as the expression does not interfere with the goals of the setting.

The First Amendment in Public Schools  Students' First Amendment rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate. However, the school can prohibit student speech that disrupts the educational process or interferes with the rights of others. A public school can restrict or regulate forms of expression that are inconsistent with the school's educational mission. For example, a school could deny a student the right to give a speech that promotes gang violence. However, a principal cannot deny publication of an article that expresses an opinion that he or she merely does not like. Regulations must be reasonable and have an educational purpose. In some circumstances a student's clothing or certain style of appearance might also be restricted if it disrupts the learning process or promotes something incompatible with the school's educational atmosphere and mission.

The First Amendment in Prisons and the Military  While freedom of expression can be somewhat limited in schools, people in prison and the military often face much greater First Amendment restrictions. Every aspect of a person's life is closely regulated in prison and on a military base. These people do not enjoy the same liberties and freedoms as those who live outside these institutions. In these two settings, many forms of expression can be restricted in the name of order and discipline.

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