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Should schools be able to limit students' free speech in school?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/4/2017 Category: Society
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,071 times Debate No: 99600
Debate Rounds (3)
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Schools should not be able to limit the online speech of students because it violates the First Amendment, it should be the parent's responsibility to limit their child's online time, and it's important for students to learn to deal with social issues on their own. The First Amendment states citizens are allowed to express and to be exposed to a wide range of opinions and views. It was intended to ensure a free exchange of ideas even if the ideas are unpopular. There are laws that if the opinion is a direct threat to someone, they lose their freedom. Limiting a student's' online speech if they have not posted a threat violates the First Amendment, which makes it unconstitutional.


I believe that schools should be able to restrict some aspects of free speech because the Supreme Court of the United States of American has declared that certain forms of speech are not protected by the first amendment. Some forms of speech that the Supreme court has decided are not protected by the first amendment are:

To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., "[S]hout[ing] "fire" in a crowded theatre.").
Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

To make or distribute obscene materials.
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).

To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
United States v. O"Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).

To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).

Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).

Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).

Since these forms of speech are not protected by the first amendment, I believe that schools should be allowed to restrict these forms of speech as it does not violate the constitution or any other law.

Debate Round No. 1


Schools should not be allowed to limit a student's freedom of speech since students need to learn how to voice their opinions. Students do not give up their right at the schoolhouse gate and the school board needs to learn that totalitarianism doesn't make anything better. A child's voice is a major factor to the world's future. Limiting a child's freedom of speech will take a step into totalitarianism for teachers and board directors. The dictionary definition for "totalitarianism" means "a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state" or in this case, to the school. Giving the school board and its employees the right to limit a child's freedom of speech is like implementing totalitarianism in schools. A child's freedom of speech is a precious thing. Taking that away for them will only lead to future problems. It will not lead to success nor will it lead to an advance in the society. But it will lead to society's plummeting. Freedom of speech helps the world to change. Without this kind of expression, the world wouldn't be aware of all the problems we have, and wouldn't help to change them. For example, with the Charlie Hebdo problem, the world and France got aware of the problem of religion, as well as Malala or Nelson Mandela. Those kind of people broke the limit of speech and it helped to change life positively. America is a land rooted in the ideas of a free society: the freedom to be who you are, to speak your mind and to innovate. By silencing our students and young people, we have started down a slippery slope. It is up to us to fight back to ensure that our First Amendment rights remain protected"especially in schools.


The reason for why I believe why schools should be able to restrict free speech is because free speech is already restricted in certain ways such as those I mentioned in round one. Schools are public institutions run by the government so it wouldn't be crazy to believe that laws should apply to these institutions as it would any other part of the country. You pointed out that a student's Freedom of Free Speach shouldn't be taken away at the schoolhouse gate but if schools had no restrictions on free speech, the exact opposite would happen. Schools would be a place where certain laws don't exist which I would find to be extremely odd and concerning. If certain laws and restrictions dictated by the Supreme Court don't apply, why would any other have to?

Besides the fact that certain forms of free speech are already restricted in the US allowing certain forms of speech can harm a student's wellbeing such as harassment. Harassment according to US law is "a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety." and such harassment can deeply harm a student. A student's academics may suffer because of lack of attendance because they fear for their safety, make them unable to concentrate on their schoolwork, and force them to choose courses based on not they enjoy or are talented at but based instead on what would minimise harassment. Schools should foster a healthy learning environment and give the best education possible to its student and by allowing verbal harassment, they are failing at their job. Schools would be complacent in the damaging of one of their student's education, mental stability, and even their entire lives. Harassment can have long lasting career consequences because of the damage on one's self-esteem and can even lead to depression in adulthood. In such circumstances, I believe it is perfectly justified for a school to restrict free speech for the well-being of their students and their education. I am not advocating that schools should censor certain differing opinions because as you have stated, differing opinions are very valuable to the education of a student and should be completely exempt from any school censorship except when it is presented or used in a way to harass or harm another student. Nor am I advocating the restrictions of speech because it might offend someone as offensive speech is very subjective but I do believe schools should be able to restrict the most severe forms of hate speech such as stating "All gays must be murdered," or "We need a second genocide of the jews" in a completely serious and in no way hyperbolic, satirical, or mocking fashion and not as a direct quote. . I do not believe that free speech should protect speech that only exists to harm another. Laws and rules exist to protect people and promote the wellbeing of society and in certain circumstances, restricting Free Speech will promote the general betterment of society.

You also mentioned how restricting free speech would lead to totalitarianism but I would like to disagree. Countries such as Canada, the US and UK have laws restricting free speech but I would hardly call those countries totalitarian.
Debate Round No. 2


J.S. versus Blue Mountain School District
A student (J.S.) created a profile mocking and offending their principal online on their own time. The school wanted to suspend J.S., but could not because of Freedom of Speech. The profile did not pose a direct threat to the principal, so they could not punish the student. In this case, Amendment one stopped the Blue Mountain School district from suspending J.S.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is the single most influential U.S. Supreme Court case on school free speech. The memorable line emanating from the case: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The 1969 case involved Iowa students and their right to wear a black armband in school to symbolically protest against the Vietnam War. The principle outlined in the case that still endures: To prevail, school officials must demonstrate that the speech would provoke "substantial disruption" of school activities or invade the rights of others. Using this, the court concluded that wearing armbands is a form of symbolic speech "akin to pure speech" and that the act was a "nondisruptive, passive expression of a political viewpoint." The court said that a fundamental right of freedom of expression cannot be squelched due to "a mere desire to avoid [the] discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompanies an unpopular viewpoint."

These are just some of the cases that involve freedom of speech or expression in school, and as you can see anything that does not threaten to cause a substantial disruption at the school means that school officials could not punish a student for lewd, indecent, or offensive speech conducted off campus.

1. Students have free-speech rights, both in school and off-campus.
2. Public schools can punish that free speech if it poses a substantial threat of a disruption to the school.


I would like to thank my opponent for pointing out Supreme Court Cases involving free speech at schools. I had no idea that there were already rulings on free speech in schools and I just assumed that schools just follow the general free speech rulings.

However, I would like to point out that my opponent has agreed to my point. The topic of this debate is whether schools be able to limit students' free speech in school and my opponent has shown how schools can limit free speech. Acts of free speech that poses a substantial threat of disruption to the school are already limited and my opponent seems to agree with that sentiment. Therefore, I can only say my opponent is arguing the same point I am in round 3.
Debate Round No. 3
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