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Law School Case Brief

Burnside v. Byars - 363 F.2d 744 (5th Cir. 1966)

Rule:

School officials cannot ignore expressions of feelings with which they do not wish to contend. They cannot infringe on their students' right to free and unrestricted expression as guaranteed to them under the First Amendment to the Constitution, where the exercise of such rights in the school buildings and schoolrooms do not materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school. 

Facts:

Students began wearing and distributing "freedom buttons" at a school. Defendants, officials of the Booker T. Washington High School of Philadelphia, Mississippi, implemented a regulation that banned the wearing and distribution of the buttons. Plaintiff parents brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a preliminary injunction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 against defendants, which alleged that plaintiffs' students' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution were breached by school officials in that they denied to the children the right to wear "freedom buttons" while attending school. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi denying a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs sought appellate review, contending that the regulation violated the students' constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Issue:

Did the district court err in denying a preliminary injunction that would have barred school officials from enforcing a school regulation forbidding school children from wearing "freedom buttons" after plaintiffs brought a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by denying the parents' request for an injunction. The appellate court noted that the affidavits and testimony before the district court revealed that the buttons caused neither interference with educational activity nor supported a conclusion that there was a commotion or that the buttons tended to distract the minds of the students away from their teachers. Accordingly, the appellate court vacated the order entered by the district court that denied the preliminary injunction sought.

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