Board of Ed. of Oklahoma City v. National Gay Task Force

PETITIONER: Board of Education of Oklahoma City
RESPONDENT: National Gay Task Force
LOCATION: Board of Education of the City of Oklahoma

DOCKET NO.: 83-2030
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 470 US 903 (1985)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1985
DECIDED: Mar 26, 1985

ADVOCATES:
Dennis W. Arrow - on behalf of the appellant
Laurence H. Tribe - on behalf of the appellees

Facts of the case

The National Gay Task Force filed a facial constitutional challenge to an Oklahoma Statute that allowed schools to fire teachers who engage in “public homosexual activity” or “public homosexual conduct”. Public homosexual activity encompassed physical sexual acts while public homosexual conduct included advocating for or encouraging public or private homosexual activity. The district court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, holding that the statute did not inhibit First Amendment freedoms, and the right of privacy did not include the activities prohibited by the statute. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed in part, holding that the part of the statute that prohibited public homosexual conduct was unconstitutionally broad and attempted to regulate speech. The court upheld that part of the statute prohibiting public homosexual activity.

Question

(1) Did the Oklahoma statute unconstitutionally infringe on protected free speech rights of public school teachers?

(2) Was the Oklahoma statute so overbroad that it infringes on the protected free speech rights of public school teachers?

Media for Board of Ed. of Oklahoma City v. National Gay Task Force

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1985 in Board of Ed. of Oklahoma City v. National Gay Task Force

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Board of Education of Oklahoma City against the National Gay Task Force.

Mr. Arrow, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

Dennis W. Arrow:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case involves not only, quite evidently, the First Amendment interests of public school teachers, but it involves as well the privacy interests of students.

It involves, in addition to that, parental interests in the rearing of their children.

Moreover, it involves state interests in effective public education as well.

Perhaps no single governmental goal--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Arrow--

Dennis W. Arrow:

--Yes, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

--I wonder if it doesn't involve some judicial interest in seeing that there is a case or controversy.

As I read the record here, or there is no indication that the school board ever applied this particular provision to anyone.

Dennis W. Arrow:

That's correct, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

And is I read it there was no threat that it was going to apply it to anyone.

Dennis W. Arrow:

That's correct, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

And the only party plaintiff was a national organization.

Dennis W. Arrow:

That's correct, Your Honor.

We would observe that based on third party standing rationales, that it is certainly arguable that the Gay Task Force has standing.

We would, however, further observe that under the approach of United Public Workers versus Mitchell, there might in fact be a problem with ripeness.

Now, this, of course, has not been resolved in the courts below.

Warren E. Burger:

Is this a case where we ought to have the views of the Supreme Court of the state?

Dennis W. Arrow:

Your Honor, we feel that it is.

We feel that when we are dealing with a statute such as this, which has never been construed, it has never been applied, we certainly do know on the basis of this record that the enforcement policies of the Board of Education of the City of Oklahoma City and of other boards of education in the State of Oklahoma have not been overly exuberant, as has been asserted by the Gay Task Force.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Does Oklahoma have a certification statute?

Dennis W. Arrow:

Yes, Your Honor, it does.

That... we have inserted that in the record, in our blue brief.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Have you put a copy of it in there?

Dennis W. Arrow:

Of the certification statute?

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Yes.

Dennis W. Arrow:

Yes, Your Honor.

We have cited it in part.