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Student Rights - The First Amendment

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“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 of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


For students, the First Amendment is very important. Many US Supreme Court cases have given a guideline as to what the First Amendment means in schools, including Tinker v Des Moines. A group of students decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam war. They were suspended. On February 24th, 1969, the court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The general rule in school is you can express your views in a variety of ways, as long as this expression doesn’t disrupt the functioning of schools or interrupt others learning.  

In schools in Washington State, you have the right to

  • Express political views while at school; The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 5 of the Washington Constitution guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press to all people, this includes students. 
  • Organize or participate in protests, rallies, or demonstrations while at school, to a degree; You should be able to organize a peaceful, non-disruptive protest at lunch or before or after school. If you block a hallway, make noise, or cause an unproductive learning environment this will be considered a disruption. 
  • Not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or singing of the national anthem; You cannot be forced to make a pledge of loyalty to the government or stand during the national anthem. You cannot be punished for refusing to stand during the national anthem or refusing participation in either the Pledge of Allegiance or national anthem. 

In schools in Washington State, if your speech is being censored

You should ask to see the written rules to determine whether your school or school official is following them. In the state of Washington, all school districts are required to put in writing the rules controlling speech. If your school or a school official overreacts to you lawfully exercising your rights, you can defend yourself in a meeting with the school or go to court to protect your rights. Remember that exercising your free speech rights involves risks.  


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