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Every society should be perceived as one complex entity that comprises a great number of absolutely different opinions and beliefs that should exist in a balance. Freedom of speech should be guaranteed and controlled not only by the government, but also by its inner structures, such as, for instance, school districts. I believe that every member of the society should obtain an equal opportunity and freedom to speak in order to express his or her personal viewpoint, though nowadays freedom of speech is often perceived not only as a human’s right, but mainly as an example of human’s courage to express own opinion and protect it.

Importance of Freedom of Speech Essay Example

First of all, it is necessary to understand what the notion “freedom of speech” really means in order to have a clear-cut viewpoint concerning it. According to the Dictionary.com that is one of the most-visited, and most trusted online dictionaries, this notion is defined as, “the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.” Freedom of speech is also referred as particularly a right to express your viewpoint without any limitations or prohibitions.

Freedom of speech is often discussed in relation to politics; however, I would like to make an emphasis on its coherence with students’ rights nowadays. Definition and differences in interpretation of students’ rights have always caused many discussions between school administrators and students. That is why certain limits and obligations were applied towards student newspapers, yearbooks, magazines, demonstrations, and other student activities. Even cases that involved student issues other than First Amendment rights relied on the words of Justice Fortas.

But more recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have put some limits on students’ rights. For instance, a1988 decision, in Hazel- wood School District v. Kuhlmeier, allowed school officials to censor student newspaper articles as long as they had educational reasons to do so. In other cases, the Supreme Court has permitted educators to bar lewd and indecent speech and to punish students, who use such words. Some observers believe the Court’s more conservative rulings regarding students’ rights are a reaction to the serious problems schools face today. Shootings, drug use, and gang uprisings at schools have grabbed headlines since the days of the peaceful, silent armband protest.

The case of Bretton Barber is certainly a bright example of coherence between such notions as freedom of speech and students’ rights This case and the fact that he was sent home for “wearing a t-shirt with a picture of President Bush that reads, “International Terrorist”” have attracted much attention within the whole world (ACLU). Bretton Barber pursued in court his right to free speech. And like the students of the 1960s, Barber won the right to express his political views in school. In this case, a federal judge made the final ruling.

In order to have a particular opinion of this case and freedom of speech in general, it is essential to know the context and details of the conflict between Barber and his school. The seventeen-year-old wore the shirt to protest America’s threat to wage war on Iraq. A month later, on March 19, 2003, the United States launched more than forty cruise missiles against Iraq in a military action to unseat the country’s ruler, Saddam Hussein.

Moreover, it is known that Barber gave a class presentation comparing Bush to Hussein for an assignment in his first-period English class that day. Barber wore the shirt without incident for the rest of his morning classes at Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Michigan, where he attended the eleventh grade. Sometime, during lunch, Vice Principal Michael Shelton told the teenager to turn the shirt inside out, take it off, or leave school. When Barber asked why he could not wear the shirt, the vice principal told him that it promoted terrorism and was a disruption. Shelton sent Barber home when he refused to change the shirt. Later that day, after reviewing the Tinker case on the Internet, Barber called the school principal, Judith Coebly, to discuss his rights.

According to Barber, the principal quoted from Justice Hugo L. Black’s dissenting opinion in Tinker to bolster her position that schools had the right to regulate students’ speech. As it is known, in result, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan decided to file the lawsuit in the federal court against the Dearborn Public Schools in order to protect student’s right to express his viewpoint. It took certain time for the court to make a proper decision in this case, and in result, student’s “disruption” was not admitted as according to judge Patrick J. Duggan there was no particular evidence that Barber’s t-shirt caused some problems or inconveniences in the school.

In my opinion the reaction of the school administrators is rather aggressive and I do not support their viewpoint. As it is known from the case, Bretton Barber’s idea to wear such a t-shirt was perceived rather aggressively, and school administrators required him to get rid of this piece of cloth, particularly within the school district. However, as the further discussion and analysis of the case showed, there was no serious evidence or reasons for disruption that such student’s behavior might result in. I understand that school administrators have a rather difficult job and they deal with a great responsibility, but still it is absolutely wrong to prevent a student to express his viewpoint, especially if this is done in a peaceful manner and does not cause disturbance.

Barber’s actions had not interrupted classes or caused any disturbance or commotion. They also noted that other students had worn similar T-shirts to school that expressed views on abortion, unrest in the Middle East, and even President Bush without being censored. According to Barber’s complaint, school officials violated his right to free speech and expression. The officials acted solely because they disagreed with the message Barber’s T-shirt conveyed, the lawyers charged. They asked the court to order the school to allow Barber to wear the T-shirt to school and to award him nominal damages. Moreover, “there are strong indications in this case that the reaction of Dearborn High School officials to Barber’s T-shirt was prompted by their disagreement with the message, and the only rationale given when Barber pressed for one was that the shirt would promote terrorism, which plainly could not have been a serious contention”.

Besides, our ruling also reconfirmed Americans’ right to symbolic speech. The First Amendment protects free speech, but it does not define what types of speech are included in that guarantee. There are many examples of symbolic speech that are actual till nowadays and depend on actions or symbols to make a particular point. For example, protesters may burn an American flag in a symbolic gesture designed to express opposition to the government policy. Such actions, however, lose their First Amendment protection if they present a clear and imminent threat of violence. If the protesters set the flag afire inside a crowded building, the Constitution would not protect such a dangerous act. Quite a similar situation is with the Bretton Barber’s case. The most important conclusion is the importance of the definition of “disruption” and whether there is some evidence for it or not.

Moreover, Judge Duggan also stated that “students benefit when school officials provide an environment where they can openly express their diverging viewpoints and when they learn to tolerate the opinions of others”. Besides, as the case states “legal precedent only permits schools to discipline students who are violating a written rule, and the Dearborn district does not have a policy banning political speech”. Every person should have a right of freedom of speech, especially, if he or she seriously worry about some particular issue and want to raise its discussion among other individuals.

The analysis of this case helped me to see the tight coherence between such notions as freedom of speech and students’ rights. In my opinion, freedom of speech should exist not only in politics, but also in other spheres of our life such, as art, writings, songs, and etc. It is important to remember that speaking freely is possible; however, it is important to think of all the future consequences that can cause and constant law suits and other problems. Every person has a right to express his viewpoint and share opinions; however, our society dictates many limitations and restrictions that cannot be ignored and avoided. Besides, you can easily cover any topic and cause discussions, but there are some issues that require tremendous accuracy, such as all the cases concerning the President and his politics.


Throughout different life stages, we are told and taught that every person has a special right, freedom of speech. Students and young individuals are constantly encouraged to express their viewpoints, share opinions, and get engaged into discussions. However, when things come to practice and particular cases, this natural right seems to lose its power and become a rather controversial mechanism. In modern society, many people are afraid to share their true ideas and opinions because of the fear of the possible negative perception and consequences. Such tendency makes many people think that freedom of speech is an example of courage, and far not everyone is courageous enough to reveal his true emotions and feelings. Freedom of speech is a natural right that implicates no limits in case it does not involve or intend either physical or mental damage to other individuals that is expressed in any physical injury to the body or moral evil and wrongdoing.

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