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Pickering v. Bd. of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S. Ct. 1731, 1968 U.S. LEXIS 1471 (1968)


Appellee, Board of Education, dismissed appellant, a teacher, for writing and publishing in a newspaper a letter criticizing the Board's allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs and the Board's and superintendent's methods of informing, or preventing the informing of, the school district's taxpayers of the real reasons why additional tax revenues were being sought for the schools. At a hearing the Board charged that numerous statements in the letter were false and that the publication of the statements unjustifiably impugned the Board and school administration. The Board found all the statements false as charged and concluded that publication of the letter was "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district" and that "the interests of the school require[d] [appellant's dismissal]" under the applicable statute. There was no evidence at the hearing as to the effect of appellant's statements on the community or school administration. The Illinois courts, reviewing the proceedings solely to determine whether the Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the Board could reasonably conclude that the publication was "detrimental to the best interests of the schools," upheld the dismissal, rejecting appellant's claim that the letter was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on the ground that as a teacher he had to refrain from making statements about the schools' operation "which in the absence of such position he would have an undoubted right to engage in."


1. "The theory that public employment which may be denied altogether may be subjected to any conditions, regardless of how unreasonable, has been uniformly rejected." Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 605-606 (1967). The teacher's interest as a citizen in making public comment must be balanced against the State's interest in promoting the efficiency of its employees' public services. P. 568.

2. Those statements of appellant's which were substantially correct regarded matters of public concern and presented no questions of faculty discipline or harmony; hence those statements afforded no proper basis for the Board's action in dismissing appellant. Pp. 569-570.

3. Appellant's statements which were false likewise concerned issues then currently the subject of public attention and were neither shown nor could be presumed to have interfered with appellant's performance of his teaching duties or the schools' general operation. They were thus entitled to the same protection as if they had been made by a member of the general public, and, absent proof that those false statements were knowingly or recklessly made, did not justify the Board in dismissing appellant from public employment. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). Pp. 570-575.

36 Ill. 2d 568, 225 N. E. 2d 1, reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of

the Court.

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