United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division
488 F.Supp. 1138 (1980)
2 April 1980
First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteeing freedom of speech.
Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteeing equal protection of the law.
The Mississippi State Textbook Purchasing Board refused to recommend the book Mississippi: Conflict and Change as a textbook for use in state schools on the grounds that it was too concerned with racial matters and too controversial. The authors of the book, joined by a number of students, filed a lawsuit stating that the actions of the defendants deprived them of their constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of speech and the right to equal protection of the law.
Issue and resolution:
Freedom of expression. The Court found that the rejection of the book was unjustified as it was motivated by reasons which the defendants should have known would have racially discriminatory consequences and therefore ruled that the plaintiffs rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Court stated that the field of education is one that needs particular constitutional protection because educational issues are fundamentally linked to the First Amendment (freedom of speech) guarantees. The primary issue was whether or not state officials have complete authority to decide which books children may read in school without those who are affected by the decision being able to oppose them. The Court concluded that such authority does not and cannot exist. It stated that “[t]o the extent that the decisions of the textbook committee impinges upon a teacher’s free choice of curriculum, or upon and editor’s right to distribute his book, or upon a student’s right to obtain an education, there must be some method by which uninhibited governmental control over “the free exchange” of ideas can be checked”. In other words, there must be some check over the government’s control over the ideas which are presented in the classroom. A publication cannot be censored only because it contains controversial viewpoints and, in this case, the Court found that a leading factor to the rejection of Mississippi: Conflict and Change was its detailed examination of racial inequality. Therefore, the Court concluded that the manner in which the textbook was rejected violated the plaintiff’s rights which are guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It also held that the rating committee for the Mississippi State Textbook Purchasing Board had no justifiable grounds for rejecting the book and that its rejection was motivated by reasons of which the defendants should have known would have racially discriminatory consequences. The Court required the defendants to put Mississippi: Conflict and Change on the state approved list for purchase and distribution to students in eligible schools.
For more information on children’s right to freedom of expression and access to information, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s campaign ‘Protect children, end censorship’.
Link to Full Judgment: