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Student Free Speech

Brewer v. Hamilton High School

Guide your students through the fictional case of Ben Brewer, a student at Hamilton High School who was suspended for violating the school dress code. Students will assume the roles of Petitioner, Respondent, or Justice as they examine the First Amendment right to free speech and apply the precedent of Tinker v. Des Moines to answer the question: Does the Constitution protect Ben’s right to wear a band t-shirt to school?


This fictional case draws on real precedents set in the 1969 landmark Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines.  The Tinker siblings were suspended for wearing black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam.  The court ruled in favor of the Tinkers, protecting students' rights to freedom of speech in school.  However, the ruling also established the Tinker Test, which allows school administrators to limit speech if it will cause substantial disruptions to learning.

Your students will:

  • Explore the limits on a student's right to Freedom of Speech in a public school

  • Weigh the need for school administrators to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment

  • Debate what qualifies as political speech

  • Analyze the First Amendment

  • Draw on precedent established in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines

Cases take roughly 60-80 minutes for a class to play through. To run the role-play over multiple days, use the link VOXPOP will send you to re-open your session.

Create a different session for each class that you intend to use this case with.

Not sure how sessions work? Feel free to create a session and step through it to get a feel for the content. You can create as many sessions as you need. Or watch a video walkthrough.



The VOXPOP software will deliver this content to students during the role-play. Use this outline to familiarize yourself with the content of the scenario, the roles students will be assigned and the choices they will be asked to make.


Students: 6 to 50

Running Time: 60-80 minutes (the role-play can be broken into multiple sessions)


This printable PDF guide provides detailed facilitation instructions, pre-simulation activities and post-simulation assessments.


This video provides historical context.


This video breaks the case down into facts.


Students are assigned to the following groups:


The Justices review the facts and prepare questions for the Petitioners & Respondents that help clarify the case.  Justices have different perspectives on the law.  Some Justices focus on the Constitution, while others may prioritize precedents or future outcomes.  


The Petitioners have brought the case. They argue that the suspension of Ben Brewer was a violation of his freedom of speech. They are fighting to defend free speech in schools.


The Respondents represent the Hamilton High School administration, defending their decision to suspend a student that refused to remove a banned t-shirt. They are fighting to make sure that school administrators can create space where everyone can learn.


Here are a few suggested discussion questions to pose at the end of the role-play.  Please feel free to use your own.

  • Do you think that speech in school should have limits?

  • How should limits be set?

  • How did the First Amendment play into this case?



Amanda Setters, iCivics

Carrie Ray-Hill, iCivics

Mattia Romeo, VOXPOP

Greg Trefry, VOXPOP


Library of Congress

Art Lien / The Court Artist

Eric Castro / Flickr



Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Rickelle Pimentel / KOMU News, Flickr

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Charlene Butts Ligon 

William David Bell / Time/Life, Volume 17, Number 6, p 25

Don Cravens / Getty Images.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Bettmann / Getty Images

State Library and Archives of Florida

Special Thanks

Thomas Sangermano and the History department at Danvers High School, Danvers, Massachusetts

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