Should Students Be Allowed to Swear

Should Students Be Allowed to Swear

Free speech is something that is outlined in our Constitution, granted to us by the first amendment right. However, everyone knows that “freedom of speech” does still have limitations, you cannot threaten others or do anything that deliberately smears another person who is out of the public eye. Swear words are not included in these laws or provisions in the slightest, yet when you come to school every day you are expected to use “respectful language,” meaning don’t swear. But does the school really have the authority to put limitations on what words you’re allowed to say, as long as they are not posing any sort of harm to others?

Limitations on curse words have historically caused a long debate, even outside of schools. The Supreme Court Case from 1942, Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, was the first to set such limitations. Mr. Chaplinsky had openly criticized the on duty police officer of his town after seeing him do something that Chaplinsky found to be unsavory, and used curse words to call him out. Chaplinsky was then arrested for violating New Hampshire’s law regarding insulting police officers, but appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court stating that the law violated his first and fourteenth amendment rights. The Supreme Court decision said words that are “lewd and obscene…profane…libelous, and insulting or ‘fighting words,’” are not protected under the first amendment, as they may not imply intent to cause physical harm but when they were said they were intended to cause emotional harm. There have been a number of Supreme Court cases since then that further outline what exactly “fighting words” are, you can find them linked below the citations. However these cases still do not define whether or not you are allowed to use profanity in a way that is not intended to cause emotional harm to other people, still forcing us to ask the question, should students be allowed to swear in school?

The simple answer would be no; but the reasoning can seem somewhat convoluted at times, so I’m going to explain it in the way that best makes sense to me. High school students are generally not offended by curse words, yet this does not mean that all high school students are not offended by hearing swear words. Some may have heard them in settings that were traumatic for them, causing bad memories to be raked to the surface when they hear them in school. Others may follow a religion very closely, and there are a number of various religions that prohibit the use of profanity in your vocabulary. This may make it uncomfortable for them to be around students who use swear words because they may feel shame or like they are doing something wrong by being around them even though they cannot control what others say. Another reason is that schools are intended to be shaping you into an educated and employable person, and as most are aware swearing is generally frowned upon in the workplace or whenever you are needing to show respect to someone. However, this does not mean that swearing is NEVER okay, sometimes students do not know how they’re feeling and feel like using curse words is the only way to do that. Students also may not recognize the meaning and value of their words, and may simply need the reason why these words can be hurtful to others explained to them. I’m sure most everyone reading this has stubbed their toe or slipped or made a mistake and dropped an f bomb or something similar unintentionally as well, and no one should be punished for an honest mistake. Yet it is still important to ensure that we have a safe and healthy learning environment where all students feel comfortable.


Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire | The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Profanity | The First Amendment Encyclopedia.

Is The F-Word Ever OK In The Classroom? : NPR Ed

The Need for an Effective Obscenity and Profanity Policy

Other cases:

Cohen v. California | The First Amendment Encyclopedia 

R.A.V. v. St. Paul | The First Amendment Encyclopedia – content warning: talks of racism, religious violence