Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has provided education and legal assistance to high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment. The SPLC provides free legal advice and information as well as low-cost educational materials for student journalists on a wide variety of topics.
Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. The ACLU's stand is that this is the wrong response, well-meaning or not. "The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution". The ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society.
Students do not, the Supreme Court tells us in Tinker vs. Des Moines, "shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door." Student speech cases require a balancing of the legitimate educational objectives and need for school discipline of administrators against the First Amendment values served by extending speech rights of students.
In Tinker, perhaps the best known of the Court's student speech cases, the Court found that the First Amendment protected the right of high school students to wear black armbands in a public high school, as a form of protest against the Viet Nam War. The Court ruled that this symbolic speech--"closely akin to pure speech"--could only be prohibited by school administrators if they could show that it would cause a substantial disruption of the school's educational mission.