Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972)
In this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court first affirmed public college students' First Amendment rights of free speech and association, saying those constitutional protections apply with the same force on a state university campus as in the larger community.
Writing for an eight-member majority, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed that the case arose in 1969 when a climate of unrest on many U.S. college campuses was marked by civil disobedience. At Central Connecticut State College, the school president had denied official status to the "local chapter" of a left-wing student group associated with violence on other campuses. The president said the group's philosophy was "antithetical to the school's policies," its independence from the national organization was "doubtful," and it "would be a disruptive influence at the college." Without official status, the group could not announce its activities in the campus newspaper, post notices on college bulletin boards or use campus facilities for meetings.
Powell quickly established that "state colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the First Amendment." His support was the Court's declaration in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), that neither public secondary students nor their teachers "shed their constitutional rights of freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Though the Court had long recognized that officials must govern conduct in the public schools, Powell emphasized its precedents "leave no room for the view that, because of the acknowledged need for order, First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large." The college classroom and its surroundings are a distinct "marketplace of idea," Powell wrote.
Because denial of official status was in effect a form of prior restraint, Powell reasoned, a "heavy burden" rested on the college to justify its action. The college president could not deny recognition simply because he disagreed with the philosophy or ideas advocated by the students, regardless of how repugnant or abhorrent he found those views, Powell warned.
However, relying upon Tinker, Powell said colleges could prohibit students' associational activities that would "infringe reasonable campus rules, interrupt classes, or substantially interfere with the opportunity of other students to obtain an education." Schools also could impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions upon student speech and could require that groups seeking official recognition agree in advance to conform to "reasonable campus law." Because the record was unclear whether the students were willing to abide by "reasonable campus rules and regulations," the Court remanded the case for reconsideration.
Justice William H. Rehnquist concurred only in the result, saying the majority opinion tended to obscure distinctions that allow the government as school administrator to impose reasonable rules and sanctions upon students that as a sovereign it could not impose upon all citizens.
A year later, in Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, 410 U.S. 667 (1973), the Court said Healy made "clear that the mere dissemination of ideas - no matter how offensive to good taste - on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of 'conventions of decency.'"
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