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Freedom of Speech in a Private Law School Part - 1 While students in law school should be more aware than others of their legal rights as well as limitations, many happy-go-lucky souls fail to distinguish between their rights between public and private institutional settings.

The First Amendment does have the lure of being a

material standards of conduct laid down in the case are

catch-all, or a foolproof shield, behind which ‘almost’

still considered to be of first importance when it comes

anything may be allowed, but few realize that the

to the free speech rights of students. In that judgment,

protective powers of the First Amendment are severely

it was held that a student’s free-speech rights do

limited within the precincts of private institutions.

not extend to any activity, which “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of

In fact, your First Amendment rights are designed to

the rights of others.”

protect you only from government censorship and not from private censorship.

The standards set down in the ‘Tinker’ case have come to be known as the Tinker test and usually

So, if you are studying in a private law school, be

applied by courts to find whether an action by a

very sure of your school policies regarding limits of

student was within or without the protection of the

expression applicable to students. As found in Ubriaco

First Amendment. The test was applied in Bethel

v. Albertus Magnus High School, No. 99 Civ. 11135

School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986)

(JSM) (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2000), a student could be

to uphold the suspension of a high-school student

expelled under school policy for content posted on a

for “including the use of obscene, profane language

personal website, without any prejudice to the First

or gestures” during a students’ election nomination

Amendment.

speech.

So, if you are intent on airing your views on your

However, the Tinker case is also famous for recognizing

private law school, its staff, or anything at all bearing

that students have rights to on-campus free speech

upon your institution, you need to check any written

irrespective of whether they were minors or adults

policies in place regarding freedom of speech allowed

or whether they studied in a high school or college.

by the school. This does not mean that private

The case, where the court held that public high school

institutions restrict freedom of speech to an extent

students had a First Amendment right to wear black

which is narrower than that allowed by the First

armbands to class in symbolic protest of the Vietnam

Amendment. In fact, many states in the U.S. have

war mentioned, “Students in school as well as out of

passed legislation that allows speech protections

school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution … they are

beyond the First Amendment to private high school and

possessed of fundamental rights which the State must

college students.

respect …”

In the context of students and educational institutions

We would be continuing this series on freedom of speech applicable to students in law schools and

393 U.S. 503 (1969) is held to be seminal. The

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concerned limitations.

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Freedom of Speech in a Private Law School Part - 1  

How far does the First Amendment go in the case of private law schools and educational institutions. This article, the first in a three part...

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