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Freedom of speech. (You be the Judge!).


Parents in the Island Trees Union Free School District in Nassau County, New York, presented school board members with a list of books that they found "objectionable." Nine of the books, which included Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Black Boy by Richard Wright, and Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas, were in the district's high school and junior high school libraries.

A committee was appointed to study the books. Board members later ordered district principals to remove most of the books in question from the schools' libraries. The board said that these books were anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy."

Five students from the districts schools then sued the board, claiming that their rights to freedom of speech and ideas had been violated. After a number of decisions and appeals in lower courts, the case came before the Supreme Court.


Lawyers for the school board said that since the board made choices in deciding school curricula, they should also be able to decide what books go in the schools' libraries. The board also argued that its duty was to reach students community values. Thus, removing the books from school libraries was part of its "moral obligation to protect the children."

The students' lawyers argued that the board had removed the books because its members did not like them, not because the books lacked educational value. This violated the students' First Amendment right to receive information and ideas. The lawyers also cited previous court rulings that students do not "shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate."


Do school boards have the right to remove objectionable books from school libraries? Or does removing these books violate students' rights to freedom of speech and ideas?

Your Teacher's Edition tells how the Supreme Court ruled.


Freedom of Speech: In 1982, in the case of Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students. The Court said that the First Amendment places limitations on when school officials can remove books from libraries and that school boards may not remove books because they find them offensive.
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Article Details
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Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 24, 2003
Previous Article:Affirmative action. (You be the Judge!).
Next Article:U.S. Affairs annual 2003.

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