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Oral Argument: Monday, March 3, 1986
Decision: Monday, July 7, 1986
Issues: First Amendment, Miscellaneous
Categories: education, first amendment, freedom of speech, justiciability, obscenity


William A. Coats (Argued the cause for the petitioners)
Jeffrey T. Haley (Argued the cause for the respondents)

Facts of the Case

At a school assembly of approximately 600 high school students, Matthew Fraser made a speech nominating a fellow student for elective office. In his speech, Fraser used what some observers believed was a graphic sexual metaphor to promote the candidacy of his friend. As part of its disciplinary code, Bethel High School enforced a rule prohibiting conduct which "substantially interferes with the educational process . . . including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures." Fraser was suspended from school for two days.


Does the First Amendment prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a high school assembly?


No. The Court found that it was appropriate for the school to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive language. Chief Justice Burger distinguished between political speech which the Court previously had protected in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) and the supposed sexual content of Fraser's message at the assembly. Burger concluded that the First Amendment did not prohibit schools from prohibiting vulgar and lewd speech since such discourse was inconsistent with the "fundamental values of public school education."

Supreme Court Justice Opinions and Votes (by Seniority)

Sort by Ideology
(More information here)
Full Opinion: First Amendment, Miscellaneous: 7 - 2
Voted with the majority, authored an opinion
Voted with the majority, authored a special concurrence
Voted with the majority, joined Burger's opinion
Voted with the minority, authored a dissent
Voted with the majority, concurred with Burger's opinion
Voted with the majority, joined Burger's opinion
Voted with the majority, joined Burger's opinion
Voted with the minority, authored a dissent
Voted with the majority, joined Burger's opinion

Cite this page

The Oyez Project, Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986),
available at: <>
(last visited ).