True Threat

True Threat

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9519-1.ch002


This chapter discusses one of the categories within which schools can constitutionally exert power over student speech while students are off-campus. The goal of the chapter is to describe true threat – one of the few categories of speech for which students, like adults, cannot claim a right to free speech against censorship. The chapter begins with a definition of true threats. It also discusses the two perspectives the judiciary uses in analyzing the existence of a true threat: (a) the reasonable-speaker perspective; and (b) the reasonable-listener perspective.
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This chapter provides an overview of the jurisprudence on true threat. It discusses the origin of true threat as an unprotected speech category in Watts v. United States (1969). This chapter also provides the United States Supreme Court’s definition of true threat which was first outlined in 2003, almost four decades after the true-threat doctrine was first introduced. Since only a few courts have applied the true-threat doctrine in the school context, the chapter per the authors discusses some non-school cases that illuminate the application of the doctrine to speech. The chapter then considers examples of school cases that further shed light on the operation of the doctrine. The objective is to facilitate an understanding of the true-threat doctrine. If school officials have an understanding of the true-threat doctrine, they will be less likely to censor protected off-campus student speech.

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