Karrie M. Kalai


The Constitution does not bestow an "unbridled license giving immunity for every possible use of language." The first amendment is not the guardian of unregulated talkativeness. Accordingly, the state's power to control the conduct of children reaches beyond the scope of its authority over adults, and the well-being of children is one subject entirely within the state's constitutional power to regulate. While children clearly have some first amendment rights, these rights differ in important respects from the rights enjoyed by adults. As the Supreme Court noted, "the world of children is not strictly part of the adult realm of free expression. The factor of immaturity, and perhaps other considerations, impose different rules." At school, the authorities stand in loco parentis to enforce minimum standards of expression.

Despite the power of the state to regulate students' conduct, these types of cases become particularly difficult to resolve inside the courtroom because they usually involve two competing principles of constitutional structure. On the one hand, the court has recognized the importance of the public schools in the preparation of students as citizens, and in the preservation of the values on which our society rests. Yet, on the other hand, it is beyond dispute that school authorities must also act within the confines of the first amendment. Despite the ongoing contradiction, courts can easily reconcile that first amendment jurisprudence recognizes an avid interest in protecting minors from exposure to vulgar and offensive language. Such protection has become a highly appropriate function of public school education. While there is a certain aura of sacredness attached to the first amendment, constitutional rights must be balanced against the state's obligation to educate students in an ordinary and decent manner.