Academy Curricular Exchange
Columbia Education Center
Social Studies

TITLE:  Symbolic Speech

AUTHOR:  Vicki Row, WY


OVERVIEW:  An activity, showing how the Supreme Court
affects our personal freedoms.

PURPOSE:  This lesson is to show students the role of the
Supreme Court in respect to interpreting the law.

OBJECTIVES:  After completing this lesson, student should be
able to:
  1.  Understand why the Constitution has changed over the
  2.  Recognize the power of the Supreme Court to rule on
      the constitutionality of a law.
  3.  Identify three important Supreme Court decisions.

ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES:  The following Supreme Court
decisions are the laws for discussion on 1st amendment
Freedom of Speech.  Any and all can be discussed in depth or
simply touched upon.  The wide range of cases help students
to understand that this freedom has limits and bounds.

  Suggestion - Start study of freedom of speech with open
ended question:
  1.  What does Freedom of Speech mean?
  2.  What can we not do in the name of Freedom of Speech?
  3.  What is Symbolic Freedom of Speech?

  After this groundwork has been laid, simply introduce the
case by name.  Write the name of the case on the board or
overhead projector, including the year to help students
understand what was happening in the world and the U.S. that
may have influenced the Court to rule as they did.  Do not
tell students the outcome until they have exhausted their
arguments.  Prior to announcing the result, the class has to
have a show of hands for or against.

  1.  Smith vs. Coguen (1975) -  Coguen wore a small cloth
version of flag on bottom of his pants.  Convicted in
Massachusetts of treating the flag contemptuously - no
disruption.  Conviction overturned.

  2.  Halter vs. Nebraska (1970) - Halter brewed home beer
in accordance with state law.  Placed American flag on beer
bottle.  Convicted of contempt displayed for the flag.
Found guilty - use tended to cheapen flag in opinion of
ordinary citizen.

  3.  Breen vs. Kahl (1969) - Williams Bay Wisconsin school
board ruling "Boys hair should be washed, combed, and worn
so it does not hang below the collar line in the back, over
the ears on the side and must be above the eyebrows, they
shall be clean-shaven."  Breen, a junior, had shoulder
length hair.  He was expelled.  Upheld by State
Superintendent.  Is this Freedom of Speech?  Yes -
Overturned.  School failed to show physical danger, health,
problem, disruption or disturbance.
  What if he had three braids - three directions and people
laughed when he moved?

  4.  Cohen vs. California (1971) - Defendant arrested for
Disturbing the Peach.  He wore a jacket saying "F___ the
Draft."  He admitted he wore it to inform others of feeling
about the Vietnam War.  Did not engage in threaten, not did
anyone around him seem upset - did not speak prior to

  Free speech does not guarantee you can say whatever -
whenever - "offensive words" might cause violence - soldiers
might not like the statement overturned.

  5.  United States vs.  Daniel O'Brien (1968) - March 1966
- O'Brien and three others burned draft cards on steps of S.
Borton Courthouse.  He was ushered to safety by an FBI
agent.  Federal law says this is illegal (to forge, destroy,
or mutilate card).
  Symbolizes Freedom of Speech - If law furthers an
important government interest, law is illegal O'Brien was
found guilty.

  6.  Tinker vs. Des Moines School District (1969) - Two
students wore arm bands to school to protest Vietnam -
refused to remove them when asked to do so.  He was
expelled.  There was no evidence of class disruption.  The
expulsion was reversed and he was reinstated.

  7.  Wooley vs. Maynard (1977) - Convicted and sentenced to
15 days for covering the state motto on his license plate.
The motto was "Live free or die."  Wooley said the motto was
repugnant to his religious and political beliefs.  The
conviction was overturned.

  1.  You have taken an old American flag you had, and sewn
a piece of it to your jean jacket.  Your school has expelled
you for disgracing the American flag.  Do you feel guilty or
innocent?  Why?
  2.  A religious group wants to ban the sale of Playboy and
Playgirl magazines and others of this type.  If the group is
successful, the magazines will not be sold at all within the
city.  Does this group have the legal right to do this?  Why
or why not?  Are these materials offensive, obscure, or
neither?  Why?
  3.  The school tomorrow will expel any student wearing a
beer or alcohol shirt.  Convince the school that they might
be in violation of Freedom of Speech.


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