Sample Political Science Essays on Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law

For decades the issue of freedom of speech and expression and its various limitations more so in public schools has been a source of numerous litigations. The landmark case regarding this specific issue is the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines. The historic ruling made by the Supreme Court cemented students’ rights to free speech in public schools.  The court held in its majority opinion that the First Amendment applied to public schools and student’s right to speech should not be censored. The majority opinion, written by Justice Abe Fortas, held that “Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.” There are however limitations to student’s speech and actions in public schools. The ruling upheld the fact that students cannot violate rules that aren’t related to the rights to expression and speech as provided by the First Amendment. Moreover, the students while enjoying their rights of expression and speech cannot lead to material disruption of the school’s functions. The case below is a constitutional law case concerned with the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. It is mainly concerned with the limits of the rights more so in public schools.

Breen v. Fiorio

Facts of The Case

Breen is an eighteen-year-old senior at Lakeview High School in Boise, Idaho. In May 2015 he wore a t-shirt to school with the letters “ILUVTOFU” printed across the chest. The school principal, Dawn Florio, learned of Breen’s actions and summoned him to his office. The principal then suspended Breen for five days for violating school policy and specifically Rule 10 and Rule 14.

The principal Dawn Fiorio interpreted the shirt’s printings, ILUVTOFU, to mean, “I love to eff you” and explained to Breen the disruption that the shirt’s prints had caused in the school. Which included about ten students reporting to her office to complain about the X-rated shirt in addition to a teacher being forced to stop class as the students wouldn’t shut up about the shirt.

According to the school principal, Breen’s actions are a violation of the school rules. The school rules were publicized to the students via a printed handbook, which is distributed on the first day of classes each year and is present on the school’s website. Rule 10, which governs disruptive behavior, reads as follows:

“Any student whose behavior causes, or could reasonably be expected to cause, disruption or disorder during school hours or at any sanctioned school event is subject to punishment in the form of detention or suspension of no less than one day and no more than ten days.”

Rule 14, meanwhile, covers obscenity:

“Students are prohibited from engaging in indecent, patently offensive, or obscene behavior. Any student who engages in indecent, patently offensive, or obscene behavior—including (but not limited to) using profane language, making sexually explicit gestures, or engaging in sexually suggestive conduct in any way—is subject to punishment in the form of detention or suspension of no less than one day and no more than ten days.”

Through Breen’s family attorney, the family sued the school district for its violation of Breen’s right to free speech. They sued on the grounds that the Lakeview school policies against obscene and disruptive behavior were impermissibly vague. Secondly, even if those policies were constitutional as they were written, Florio’s application of them to Chris’s situation was an unconstitutional violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech. The trial judge at the Idaho state court ruled in favor of the family and revoked Breen’s suspension. The school district appealed to the decision at the Court of Appeal which held reversed the trial court and held that the school’s policies and the principal’s actions were both constitutionally sound.

Questions

Are the school policies, specifically, Rules 10 and 14 vague and ambiguous? Secondly, did Breen’s suspension from Lakeview School violate his First Amendments rights to free speech?

Discussion

The school policies, specifically, Rules 10 and 14 are quite clear. The rules unequivocally provide for the prohibited actions and the requisite penalty to be meted by the school to the offender in case of a breach. In addition, the plaintiff, Breen’s family, has not presented evidence to prove their allegations that Rules 10 and 14 of the Lakeview School handbooks are unclear and unambiguous. Besides, the fact that the school’s handbook, containing the school rules was not only publicized to the students but also distributed to the students on the first day of classes each year qualifies the school rules to be deemed good laws. The school’s board has also attempted to promulgate the school rules to the students and make the rules non-retroactive. For the reasons above I dismiss the claim.

The landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines provides a good precedent on the second issue. Justice Abe Fortas while delivering the majority opinion held that students do not lose their rights to freedom of speech and expressions which are guaranteed by the First Amendment simply by stepping onto school property (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1968). The learned Justice in his considered opinion moreover held that “School officials must prove that the conduct in issue materially and substantially interfered with the school’s operation for suppression of speech to be justified (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1968).” In addition, Justice Warren E. Burger in the majority opinion of the 7-2 decision for Bethel School District in the Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser case held that: The First Amendment does not forbid schools from disallowing vulgarity that is inconsistent with the fundamental values of public-school education.

The school principal, Dawn Fiorio, has adduced evidence to support her allegation that Breen’s actions disrupted the school. I hold that the disruption which includes a class being forced to stop its normal activities are substantial and material. I also have to add that the printed message on Breen’s shirt was ambiguous and therefore open to numerous interpretations which include the principal’s and other student’s deciphering of the message to mean, “I love to eff you”. The above interpretation is quite immoral and vain and therefore constitutes a violation of Rule 10 and 14 of the school’s handbook.

According to the majority opinion in the Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, one of the core functions of public schools is the promotion of positive fundamental values in society through education (Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 1985). I believe that it was not in the intention of the drafters of the First Amendment to promote the use of vulgar and profane language more so in a public school with a population of thousands of students. Therefore, it will be a constitutional violation to interfere with public schools’ discretion to regulate and prohibit the use of vulgarities and profanities in such institutions.

Conclusion

This litigation has brought to light the important issue concerning the rights to free speech and expression and its limitation more so concerning public schools. We have to look at the fundamental role public schools play in the education and promotion of positive values in society. The schools’ mold majority of society’s behavior and I do believe that the use of profanities and vanities are vices that need to be eradicated. Therefore, to empower and enable the schools to carry out this function of theirs with minimum interference I believe that the schools’ discretion in the regulation of such vices should not be tampered with (Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 1985). In addition, I hold the belief that every good-intentioned citizen aspires for a morally astute and grounded society. This can only be achieved by allowing schools the ability to mold and impart to our young generation the need for better morals with minimal obstructions.

I uphold that Rule 10 and 14 of the Lakeview School handbooks is clear and lack any ambiguity whatsoever. In addition, the principal, Dawn Fiorio’s decision to suspend Breen is both constitutional and per the school handbook. I, therefore, uphold the Court of Appeal’s decision that both the school’s policies and Fiori’s actions were both constitutionally sound.

 

 

 

References

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1985/84-1667

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1968/21