Bethel School District vs. Fraser

Bethel School District vs. Fraser

This case involved a public high school student, Matthew Fraser who gave a speech nominating another student for a student elective office. The speech was given at an assembly during school as a part of a school-sponsored educational program in self-government. While giving the speech, Fraser referred to his candidate in what the school board called "elaborate, graphic, and explicit metaphor." After his speech, the assistant principal told Fraser that the school considered the speech a violation of the school's "disruptive-conduct rule." This prohibited conduct that interfered with the educational process, including obscene, profane language or gestures. After Fraser admitted he intentionally had used sexual innuendo in the speech, he was told that he would be suspended from school for three days, and his name would be removed from the list of the speakers at the graduation exercises.

Fraser's father brought action against the school board in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. He alleged the suspension and punishment were a violation of his son's First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The father sought injunctive and monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. of 1983. The district court awarded the student $278 in damages, $12,750 in litigation costs and attorney's fees, and ordered the school district not to prevent the student from speaking at the commencement ceremonies.

The school district appealed the decision, arguing that the speech had a disruptive effect on the educational process. The school district said it had an interest in protecting an audience of minors from indecent speech in the school. The school board believed it had the right to control language that was used during a school-sponsored activity. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.

The district court found the disruptive-conduct rule unconstitutionally vague and...

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