JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
img

Free Speech in Schools

You have the right to have your voice heard

We believe the right to be free from government censorship applies to everyone regardless of age. However, school administrators have frequently tried to censor student speech in a variety of ways: banning clothing with certain messages, removing articles from school newspapers, preventing students from passing out materials at school, turning off the microphone when students are giving a speech, or punishing students for writing material online. In many of these instances, students have successfully brought their school to court over violation of their First Amendment rights and won.

The right to free speech

The most famous case for establishing the idea that young people’s First Amendment rights are protected while they are in school was Tinker v. Des Moines (U.S. Supreme Court, 1969). In 1965, students John & Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt were threatened with suspension for wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Their case ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court who, in a 7-2 decision, sided with the students and concluded that the schools failed “to show that its action [punishing the students] was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”

Mary Beth and John Tinker with black armbands
Siblings Mary Beth and John Tinker display the armbands that they were prevented from wearing at school.

The Court also set a precedent for other cases involving student rights by concluding that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and that “in our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect.” While many courts have followed what became known as “the Tinker Standard” since then, other courts have ruled in ways that chip away at the protections those students fought for.

Off-campus speech

Students have been punished for a variety of statements they’ve made online, ranging from calling out teachers for sexually harassing students or for criticizing their school in other ways. Schools may be concerned about students who have used the internet to intimidate others, but they often take extreme measures to punish students or abused their authority in demanding students to give up their passwords to their social media accounts. The courts are unclear whether the schools can punish students for speech made online, even when that speech is about the school or other students. In some of these cases, the courts have upheld the students’ rights to free speech and in others they have sided with the schools, which makes it difficult to determine a definitive rule, but NYRA believes that the school doesn’t have the right to censor you.

What You Can Do

Know your rights.

Many students have sued their schools over censoring student speech. Reading about their cases can help you fight for your rights.

Read the Court Cases

Start a NYRA Chapter.

Through our chapter network, we help students learn how to launch a campaign, raise awareness, and change school policy.

Start a NYRA Chapter

Fight back.

If your school is censoring speech at school or off-campus, contact us. We can help you get organized and launch a campaign.

Contact Us

Find out more.

Our activist toolkit has lots of suggestions on how to use the media, contact your representatives and gain supporters.

Read the toolkit

Remember:

  • Get Anti-Hazelwood laws passed in your state. Many states have laws that protect student publications from censorship.
  • Start Your Own Paper. Hazelwood restrictions cover official school papers, but schools are unable to censor blogs or papers you publish on your own.
img

OUR BLOG

img

Alex Jonlin – 20th Anniversary Reflection

As a ten-year-old kid in Seattle, I was already interested in politics. My friends and I marched around the playground protesting the Iraq War, and I...

BY Alex Jonlin
img

Scott Davidson – 20th Anniversary Reflection

Former board member (2003-2007) and president, Scott Davidson reflects on his time with NYRA and the people he got to know during his time being active...

BY Scott Davidson
img

Jackie Ferro – 20th Anniversary Reflection

I first got involved with NYRA in 2009, when I was in 8th grade. I had formed a small coalition with some fellow middle schoolers called...

BY Jackie Ferro
img

NYRA-Fairfax Secures Voting Age Endorsements

Thanks to the efforts of the newly formed Fairfax County NYRA chapter, the Fairfax County Democratic Party and grassroots organizations Virginia Democracy Forward and Virginia Civic...

BY Brian Conner
img

NYRA Mourns Passing of John Taylor Gatto

Renowned critic of compulsory schooling, John Taylor Gatto passed away this week at the age of 82.  A teacher for 30 years, he achieved notoriety after...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
img

Stefan Muller – 20th Anniversary Reflection

I joined NYRA in 2003 after reading about it in a news article about the voting age. This wasn’t my first introduction to youth rights—I’ve believed...

BY Stefan Muller
img

NYRA Launches New Website!

After months of hard work by NYRA's team of volunteers, we are pleased to finally unveil our brand new look! With a new logo, a new...

BY NYRA
img

Bill introduced in U.S. House to lower the voting age to sixteen

Last week, U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a resolution proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would lower the voting age to sixteen throughout...

BY NYRA
img

Over 70 people testify in favor of lowering the voting age in Washington D.C.

On Wednesday, NYRA members attended a public hearing before the Washington, D.C. City Council to support the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. If passed, this...

BY NYRA
View More
img

Support the New YouthRights.org!

NYRA's current website was redesigned in 2011 and while it looked great for the time, it is now dated in both style and function. The current...

BY NYRA
img

Portland Student Rights Union joins NYRA to address Student Rights

Members of Portland Student Rights Union - A NYRA Chapter We originally started the Portland Student Rights Union (SRU) in October 2017 to protest the administration...

BY Portland Student Rights Union
img

Scott Davidson – 20th Anniversary Reflection

Former board member (2003-2007) and president, Scott Davidson reflects on his time with NYRA and the people he got to know during his time being active...

BY Scott Davidson
img

Schwarzenegger v Gamers – Help Us Fight Back

Arnold is trying to take away your games. Don't let him. California passed a law that would ban the sale of all "violent" video games to...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
img

Activists in Massachusetts Make Progress in Lowering the Voting Age

In Massachusetts, two best friends made headway in the push to lower the voting age. Aaron Nelson and Max Carr passed articles in their hometowns of...

BY NYRA
img

Over 70 people testify in favor of lowering the voting age in Washington D.C.

On Wednesday, NYRA members attended a public hearing before the Washington, D.C. City Council to support the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. If passed, this...

BY NYRA
img

Alex Jonlin – 20th Anniversary Reflection

As a ten-year-old kid in Seattle, I was already interested in politics. My friends and I marched around the playground protesting the Iraq War, and I...

BY Alex Jonlin
img

Speaking out against curfew laws in Fort Worth, TX

NYRA Chapter leader Bryce Hall spoke out against extending the juvenile curfew law in his home town of Fort Worth, Texas last Tuesday. He and other...

BY NYRA
img

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, And Drags When You’re Young

When I talk to people about lowering the voting age to 16 or lowering the drinking age to 18 they often say “Why the rush? Two...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
View More