Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the First Amendment applies with equal force at public universities.


The lower court, which had affirmed the college’s denial of official recognition to the campus chapter, was reversed. The court remanded the case for reconsideration as to whether the campus chapter was willing to abide by reasonable campus rules.

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Students at Central Connecticut State College attempted to gain official recognition for a campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, a student organization famous for its activism, including “sit-ins” at various college campuses, on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement and against the Vietnam War. The college president denied recognition because he believed that the campus chapter held values antithetical to the college, would be a disruptive influence, and would not be independent of the national organization.

Importance of Case

The First Amendment applies with the same force at public universities. The Supreme Court held that an “acknowledged need for order” does not mean that First Amendment protections “apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large.” Rather, the Supreme Court affirmed again that the “the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools” (Shelton v. Tucker), in part because “a college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’”

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