Banned Books

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TexRex72
Today--Sunday, September 26th--marks the start of the 39th annual Banned Books Week in the United States (which is also promoted around the globe by Amnesty International), and while there are free speech and First Amendment (in the United States) implications, I thought interesting discussion could be had regarding specifically the prohibition of books in the "free" world.

The right to publish amd distribute isn't typically infringed upon per the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and publisher's discretion, regardless of motivation, simply doesn't qualify. Private purveyors of print get to similarly exercise discretion for any reason, though both may have to face consequences, particularly reduced market share, for these decisions.

However, children are still frequently deprived of literary works in public schools and libraries and that this is broadly tolerated, even by the United States Supreme Court, is disconcerting. Children are frequently not beneficiaries of rights protections in the way that adults are. "Won't somebody please think of the children?"

First banned by the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts for "coarse language" mere weeks after its release, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is recognized as one of the most widely prohibited works. Often cited as justification for prohibition is the subject of racial discrimination and its liberal use of the n-word (it appears on more than 200 occasions). Indeed, issues of race are frequently given as justification for depriving children of access to books. Ruby Bridges Goes To School, a book in which Bridges herself gives an account as the first black student to integrate a New Orleans public school, which was first published in 2009 and has since been proposed for public school curriculum, has recently been condemned by "Moms for Liberty" because it doesn't depict white people who opposed black children in their own children's schools in a positive light. Robin Steenman, chair of a Tennessee chapter of the group, doesn't want children to be taught this kind of history.

Similarly panned are works that address topics like sexuality, gender and gender identity. Children are just too impressionable.

Strega Nona is the first book I remember pulling off of a public school library shelf to read myself, and I was dumbfounded to learn probably close to thirty years later that it had been banned in parts of the Bible Belt because it glorified witchcraft. Insane.
 

Dennisch

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As far as I know, we only have one banned book here in the Netherlands and that is Mein Kampf.

And I have really no idea why because it is just incoherent ramblings about everything and nothing.
 

Liquid

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I just checked out of curiosity and there are apparently three books currently banned in the UK:

The Anarchist Cookbook (banned in 1971) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.
Kill Or Get Killed (banned in 1976) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.
Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison (Unknown year of publication) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.

They weren't even the last books to be banned; a 1990 novel was unbanned in 1992. Seems like an unusual quirk for these three banned books to still be in statute considering how to kill someone and how to make a bomb is probably very accessible information on every smartphone.
 

Blitz24

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I just checked out of curiosity and there are apparently three books currently banned in the UK:

The Anarchist Cookbook (banned in 1971) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.
Kill Or Get Killed (banned in 1976) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.
Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison (Unknown year of publication) - Criminal due to containing information useful to terrorists.

They weren't even the last books to be banned; a 1990 novel was unbanned in 1992. Seems like an unusual quirk for these three banned books to still be in statute considering how to kill someone and how to make a bomb is probably very accessible information on every smartphone.
Rights of Man by Thomas Paine doesn't seem to have been unbanned.
 
22,487
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TexRex72
As far as I know, we only have one banned book here in the Netherlands and that is Mein Kampf.

And I have really no idea why because it is just incoherent ramblings about everything and nothing.
See, that's just wrong. It should absolutely be available for people to draw woodland creatures with exaggerated genitalia in the margins.
Rights of Man by Thomas Paine doesn't seem to have been unbanned.
Gosh, I can't imagine why.
 
10,310
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cyan-yoshi5
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Currently banned in Australia:

The 120 Days of Sodom - for Obscenity

The Straights Impregnable - only the 2nd edition however due to the War Precautions Act of 1914

Rowena Goes Too Far - for Obscenity

Forever Amber - "a collection of bawdiness, amounting to sex obsession."

Borstal Boy

The World is full of Married Men

The Stud

The Anarchist Cookbook

How To Make Disposable Silencers - "promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence"

American Psycho - Was unbanned but you need to be 18+ to purchase

No Game, No Life - Only Volumes 1, 2 and 9 due to imagery that could be seen as Pedophillia
 
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Obscenity
Obscenity
So vague. That's not directed at you but at anyone who cites it to justify prohibiting materials.
Forever Amber - "a collection of bawdiness, amounting to sex obsession."
Slightly less nebulous than "obscenity," but still terribly vague.
American Psycho - Was unbanned but you need to be 18+ to purchase
I've read about this. It's purportedly displayed by booksellers in a wrapped state so that people can't leaf through it. Insane.

I love Bret Easton Ellis. It's a pity his works aren't done reasonable justice in cinema.

No Game, No Life - Only Volumes 1, 2 and 9 due to imagery that could be seen as Pedophillia.
Curious. I wonder if you might elaborate on this.
 
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Curious. I wonder if you might elaborate on this.
The official quote is “describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18”.

Australia gets very ban happy, especially if it's not from something that funds the government well. Also doesn't help Australia one of the few non-third world countries that refuses to make a Bill of Rights allowing them to get away with obscure reasons to ban anything.

In Australia books are initially unclassified by default and are able to sold that way until the Government determines it needs to be looked into and if they decide to, the books are unable to be sold until classification is met and all of No Game No Life volumes have to be Classified separately. Volumes 1, 2 and 9 aren't so lucky and ended up banned. The attention came when Australia decided to track down hard on adult anime for how they depict children and No Game No Life Light Novel ended up being affected but somehow not the Anime

I've only ever seen the Anime adaptation once and I didn't like the show so I never delved into the franchise further to confirm the Light Novels actual contents.
 
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The official quote is “describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18”.
That's just weird.

Okay, so child sexual abuse is bad because sex without consent is bad and obviously children can't give consent for said activities. At its core, it's a human rights violation. Child pornography is included here because the subject can't have given consent to production or distribution of materials.

In a work of fiction, there is no rights violation. There can't be. I understand people may find fictional depictions of sexual acts with children offensive, indeed I'm one of them, but they're not real. Graphic representations of fictional characters, so long as the fictional characters aren't portrayed by real life children, don't constitute violations either. They're not real. They're fictional.

Pedophilia is something else. Pedophilia is thought alone. If one who has these thoughts engages in sexual activity with a child, that individual has then perpetrated an act of child sexual abuse. That's wrong. Thoughts alone are not wrong. Thoughts without action do no harm. They're not real.

This isn't reasonable justification for prohibition, though I wouldn't consider prohibition of any materials mentioned so far to be reasonably justified.
 
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Here's the full letter. As with Zappa before the United States Senate PMRC hearing in 1985, it's just ****ing awesome.
November 16, 1973

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.

I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes–but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the eduction of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

Kurt Vonnegut
 

UKMikey

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I looked up the original story for context. It looks like Drake conservatives argued that kids could read the books outside the school but that they shouldn't be taught in class. They didn't reckon with the terrible optics of destroying literature in the school furnace.

New York Times

Dakota Town Dumfounded at Criticism of Book Burning by Order of the School Board​

By William K. Stevens Special to The New York Times
  • Nov. 16, 1973
DRAKE, N. D., Nov. 15—Already there is in the Dakota air a chill foretaste of the great Arctic gales that sweep down out of Canada, driving temperatures to 30 below zero, flinging across the plains a curtain of snow that wipes from view the water tower and grain elevator that are the main landmarks of this trackside hamlet. The 650 people who live here are a flinty breed, used to such storms. They simply hunker down until the blow is over, and then step outside to enjoy—yes, enjoy—the cold brittleness that makes it feel, as one resident put it, as if you could take a piece of air in hands and break it.

The Talk of Drake,N.D.
But nothing prepared the people of Drake for the storm that broke here late last week and has swirled about them since.
Eight days ago, Mrs. Sheldon Summers, a custodian at Drake's combination elementary and high school, opened the doors of the furnace beneath the school gym and tossed in 32 paperback copies of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” that a 26‐year‐old English teacher had assigned to his sophomore class. She destroyed the books on orders of the Drake school board, which deemed the novel profane and therefore unsuitable for use in class.

‘Mindless, Primitive Act’
Book burning! Shades of Adolf Hitler and Fahrenheit 451!

As the word percolated outward last weekend, the response was furious. A “mindless, primitive act of censorship,” Jerome Weidman, the novelist who heads the Authors League of America, said in a letter to Drake school officials. An “arbitrary, capricious and subjective violation of free speech,” fumed the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in nearby Minot. “Almost inconceivable,” said the North Dakota branch of the National Education Association. “Everybody's against bookburning,” offered Mr. Vonnegut.

All this week, newsmen have been descending upon Drake. Telephone lines have been jammed. Some school officials and parents who instigated the removal of the books have dived for cover, evading questioners by a variety of means.
Drake at large is dumfounded and vaguely upset by the notoriety. “What did we do?” the town seems to be asking. “People are still sort of shaking their heads, like, ‘What happened?’” Galen Strand, pastor of the Drake Lutheran Church, said yesterday.

A Perennial Question
What happened offers a striking example of a perennial question in American public education: How are the requirements of free inquiry and academic freedom to be balanced against the dominant mores and values of the community? For, stripped of the sensational and symbolic aspect of the actual burning of the books, the banning that took place here is hardly unusual in the United States.

Drake was founded early early in this century as a watering spot at a main switching point on the Soo Line Railroad, a dot on the plains where war‐bonnetted Sioux used to roam. Today its two‐block‐long business district forms the center of a farming region where wheat is the main crop. The farms are mostly small, most of the people are of German, Scandinavian and Russian descent, and political conservatism prevails.

Into this community, last year, came the 26‐year‐old English teacher, Bruce Severy, his wife, Sally, and their 5‐year‐old daughter, Liz. The Severys are from Southern California. They came to Drake, in Mr. Severy's words, “because we wanted to get out of the city so bad; to be able to live a life‐style half as fast as that in Los Angeles.”

Although the Severys say they have never really fit in here, and are not particularly trying to, the full‐bearded teacher says he has liked the peace and quiet. The antlers of a seven‐point buck that Mr. Severy shot last weekend crown the chockfull bookcase in the living room of the huge old white frame house across the street from the school where the Severys live with three cats and a German shepherd dog.

Philosophy on Teaching
“I think kids should be taught how to think, not what to think,” Mr. Severy said the other day. It was in that spirit, he said, that he assigned “Slaughterhouse Five” and a second contemporary novel, James Dickey's “Deliverance.” “I felt the books dealt with current problems,” he said, “problems we all have to face in our age, in a straightforward way. These kids are going to have to go out and live in that world.”

But if some people in Drake agreed with Mr. Severy's position, some thought that the profanity and sexual references in both books were too much to bear.


At a special school board meeting last week, the books were attacked as being unsuitable for 15‐year‐old minds. After reading the book in whole or in part, the board members unanimously ordered the copies of “Slaughterhouse Five” destroyed.

According to School Superintendent Dale Fuhrman, virtually the only school official who will talk to newsmen, “Deliverance” and an anthology of stories by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck, which Mr. Severy had also assigned, were to be investigated and, if found unsuitable, also destroyed.

How to destroy the Vonnegut books? The way anything else is customarily destroyed at the school, according to Mr. Fuhrman. “I gave them to the janitor as I would my wastepaper,” he said.

Did the symbolic significance of burning books occur to anyone? he was asked. “No,” Mr. Fuhrman said. We didn't say the kids couldn't read the books or even bring them into school. We just said they couldn't be used in class.”

Petition for Return
As students will, the teenagers at Drake. High are trying their best to get copies of the books. Twenty‐two of the 32 members of Mr. Severy's sophomore class have petitioned for the return of “Slaughterhouse.”

Senechal, a junior, said. “I didn't think it was all that bad. I thought it would be one of those little‐bit‐on‐every‐page books. But it wasn't. These kids here can handle that. There isn't anything in these books that we haven't heard before.”

“The parents know that,” said Mr. Strand, the Lutheran pastor. “What it comes down to in their minds is the official sanctioning of profanity. And the school board does reflect the values of the community.”

When the storm broke, townspeople here commonly thought there was little wrong with the action except that the burning itself was unwise. Better the books should have been stored away, they say. That, in effect, is what has been done in many other communities where school boards—as they “not uncommonly” do, according to the National Education Association, forbid the use of particular books in classrooms.

The N.E.A.'s official position on such matters is that if a book has literary and educational value, its use should be left to the teacher's professional judgment. Court cases have upheld the use of “dirty” words in an educational context, according to the N.E.A., but there are no such cases involving books. Whether any lawsuits will be brought in this case is uncertain.

In the meantime, “Slaughterhouse Five” remains proscribed for classroom use here. Bruce Severy's future is in doubt. He says he has been given to understand that he will not be rehired next year, but Mr. Fuhrman says the school board has not discussed the matter.

Drake is now simply waiting for things to die down. “When we get the reporters out of here,” Mr. Fuhrman says, “we'll decide what to do about the other books.” What if they are found unacceptable?

“We'll probably lock them up for about 50 years,” he said.
 
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From the party that brought you the "snowflake" pejorative.
A Republican state lawmaker has launched an investigation into Texas school districts over the type of books they have, particularly if they pertain to race or sexuality or "make students feel discomfort."

State Rep. Matt Krause, in his role as chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is "initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content," according to an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Krause's letter provides a 16-page list of about 850 book titles and asks the districts if they have these books, how many copies they have and how much money they spent on the books.

His list of titles includes bestsellers and award winners alike, from the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates to last year's book club favorites: “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall and Isabel Wilkerson's “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

But race is not the only thing on the committee chair’s list. Other listed books Krause wants school districts to account for are about teen pregnancy, abortion and homosexuality, including “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves” edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”

Krause, a Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, is running for state attorney general against Ken Paxton. Krause declined to comment and no explanation was given as to how these books were chosen.

Krause sent notice of the investigation to Lily Laux, the Texas Education Agency deputy commissioner of school programs, as well as some Texas school superintendents. His letter did not specify which school districts Krause was investigating.

Krause informs districts they must provide the committee with the number of copies they have of each book, on what part of campus those books are located and how much money schools spent on the books, as well as information on any other book that violates House Bill 3979, the so-called “critical race theory law”designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools. Critical race theory, the idea that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals is an academic discipline taught at the university level. But it has become a common phrase used by conservatives to include anything about race taught or discussed in public secondary schools.

The law states a teacher cannot “require or make part of a course” a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on their race or sex.

School officials have until Nov. 12 to respond. It is unclear what will happen to the districts that have such books.

The letter did not give a specific reason that Krause was launching the investigation, only that “the committee may initiate inquiries concerning any ‘matter the committee considers necessary for the information of the legislature or for the welfare and protection of state citizens.’”

Lake Travis Independent School District officials received the letter and are trying to figure out what the next steps are, a spokesperson said. Officials in that Austin-area school district are speaking with other school districts to figure out what this means for them. In nearby Round Rock Independent School District, the district spokesperson, Jenny Caputo, texted that it will "take significant staff time to gather the information to reply to this request." The district's legal team is still reviewing the request.

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who is vice chair of the committee, said she had no idea Krause was launching the investigation but believes it’s a campaign tactic. She found out about the letter after a school in her district notified her.

“His letter is reflective of the Republican Party's attempt to dilute the voice of people of color,” she said.

Neave said she doesn’t know what Krause is trying to do but will investigate the motive and next steps.

The TEA and the rest of the Committee on General Investigating members did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it doesn’t surprise him that Krause has taken initiative on a conservative item, especially since there is crowded field in the Texas attorney general race.

“He's not well known statewide, and so he needs to put down a pretty tall conservative flag to get notice,” Rottinghaus said. “As a political statement, it certainly conveys the clear message that the Republicans are watching.”

Rottinghaus said he doesn’t recall a time in recent memory when legislatures have taken the role of investigating school districts.

“The monitoring of this definitely is a political statement and so the fact that the legislature is attentive to it definitely implies that they're not going to drop the issue,” he said.

Jim Walsh, an attorney who often represents school districts, pointed out there is nothing in the law that says books must be removed and Krause’s investigation also doesn’t call for books to be removed. For now, it’s up to school districts to decide how they will respond, but what’s certain is that it will add more workload to Texas schools that are already struggling from the effects of the pandemic.

Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and that nothing in state law gives lawmakers the right to go after educators.

“This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children’s education,” she said.

Krause’s investigation comes after several school districts across the state removed books from libraries because of parental outcry.

Earlier this month, the Carroll Independent School District board in Southlake reprimanded a fourth grade teacher who had an anti-racist book in her classroom after a parent complained about it last year.

Then, in a separate incident this month, a Carroll ISD administrator asked teachers to provide materials that presented an “opposing” perspective of the Holocaust in an effort to comply with HB 3979. The law, which comes with little to no guidance, has caused confusion and fear among teachers and administrators, who have seemingly misinterpreted the law.

In the Katy Independent School District, a school removed a book after parents claimed it promoted “critical race theory,” which the district later found to be untrue and reinstated the book.
And then there's this...hilariously ****ing pathetic plea:

McAuliffe shot himself in the foot when he said parents shouldn't have a say in their children's education, to be sure, but this is just sad.
 

Brett

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I read a bunch of previously banned books in high school. We were required to read them. Reading them helped expand my world view. They did not turn me into some kind of demon.
 

Joey D

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Mormon's gonna Mormon:


This will 100% end up being the Streisand Effect, especially among sexually repressed Mormon teenagers who want to rebel. Even those who aren't repressed will probably obtain some of the books because going against the status quo for teens is almost always seen as cool.
 

Brett

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Exactly what some kind of demon would say.
Walter White I Give Up GIF by Breaking Bad
 
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Florida, man.


As stated by the Superintendent last night in the Board meeting, there was a disruption to the educational environment and a public spectacle about the book at a previous board meeting, so the Superintendent and her team decided to pull the book off the shelf pending further discussion. Under Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., 141 S.Ct. 2038, 2045 (2021), school districts "have a special interest in regulating speech that 'materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder ..."
Setting aside the absurd notion that a book itself causes a spectacle due to its presence, citing Mahanoy is an extra special kind of stupid.

In Mahanoy, the Court ruled 9-1 (with Alito and Gorsuch concurring and Thomas dissenting, because of course he would) that action taken by a public school against a student for disfavored speech off-campus, over the weekend and outside of a school function, on Snapchat, was unconstitutional.

In the opinion for Mahanoy, Justice Breyer writes:

Finally, in Tinker, we said schools have a special interest in regulating speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.” 393 U. S., at 513. These special characteristics call for special leeway when schools regulate speech that occurs under its supervision.
Breyer was referring to existing Supreme Court precedent established in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) that defined the scope of constitutional speech protections for public school students.
 
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Tomorrow--January 27th--is National Holocaust Remembrance Day, by the way. Maybe this is a sign that one day a year isn't enough.