US Sup Ct hears case of Bong Hits 4 Jesus

The US Supreme Court just heard an amusing case on the limits of student speech, that reportedly had christians and other conservatives siding with an apparently rebellious young pot smoker against the school administration, because they too want to preserve their right to state their messages.

[quote]Court Probes Limits on Student Speech

A high school senior’s 14-foot banner proclaiming ‘‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’’ gave the Supreme Court a provocative prop for a lively argument Monday about the extent of schools’ control over student speech.

If the justices conclude Joseph Frederick’s homemade sign was a pro-drug message, they are likely to side with principal Deborah Morse. She suspended Frederick in 2002 when he unfurled the banner across the street from the school in Juneau, Alaska.

‘‘I thought we wanted our schools to teach . . . . not to use drugs,’’ Chief Justice Roberts said Monday.

But the court could rule for Frederick if it determines that he was, as he has contended, conducting a free-speech experiment using a nonsensical message that contained no pitch for drug use.

‘‘It sounds like just a kid’s provocative statement to me,’’ Justice David Souter said.

Students in public schools don’t have the same rights as adults, but neither do they leave their constitutional protections at the schoolhouse gate, as the court said in a landmark speech-rights ruling from Vietnam era. . . .

Douglas Mertz of Juneau, Frederick’s lawyer, struggled to keep the focus away from drugs. ‘‘This is a case about free speech. It is not a case about drugs,’’ Mertz said.

Conservative groups that often are allied with the administration are backing Frederick out of concern that a ruling for Morse would let schools clamp down on religious expression, including speech that might oppose homosexuality or abortion . . . .

What if, Souter asked, a student held a small sign in a Shakespeare class with the same message Frederick used. ‘‘If the kids look around and they say, well, so and so has got his bong sign again,’’ Souter said, as laughter filled the courtroom. ‘‘They then return to Macbeth. Does the teacher have to, does the school have to tolerate that sign in the Shakespeare class?’’

Justice Antonin Scalia, ridiculing the notion that schools should have to tolerate speech that seems to support illegal activities, asked about a button that says, ‘‘Smoke Pot, It’s Fun.’’ . . . .[/quote] … ts.html?hp

A decision is expected in the case by July. Incidentally, the student who posted the sign and was kicked out of school for it is now studying and teaching in China.

The brief NYT article doesn’t do the story justice. Here’s some background:

[quote]The long journey started five years ago, on a quiet afternoon at Juneau-Douglas High School, as a student sat alone in the commons area reading Albert Camus’ novel “The Stranger.”

In mid-March the road ends at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the nationally watched “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case will test the limits of free speech in public schools.

Joe Frederick was an 18-year-old senior back then. His classes were done for the day, and “Camaro Joe,” as some kids called him, was waiting for his girlfriend to finish so he could give her a ride home. As Frederick recalls the story, a vice principal approached and told him he couldn’t stay in the commons without supervision. He would have to leave the campus to wait for her.

Frederick refused. He insisted he had a right to sit quietly in his own school and read a French existentialist. Two Juneau police officers were summoned, and Frederick left after they threatened to arrest him for trespass.

The next morning at school, Frederick turned his chair around and sat with his back to the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

“This was my symbolic protest against a school administration that clearly lacked common sense and abused its power to retaliate against anyone who dared question their authority,” he wrote later in a mini-autobiography where he quoted Thoreau, Voltaire and Martin Luther King.

Frederick said his father was summoned to the school to discuss a possible suspension. School officials say they have no record of the incident.

Regarding a suspension at that point, the Supreme Court was already clear. In the unsettled world of free speech rights in public schools the right to refuse to salute the flag is one of the few established points.

After that, Frederick said, he resolved to find a free speech protest that would draw wider notice.

He found one.

On Jan. 24, 2002, Frederick and friends unfurled a 14-foot paper banner with duct-tape letters reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” They were standing on a sidewalk opposite the high school during a public Olympic-torch parade attended by students and teachers.

The phrase, which they’d spotted on a snowboard sticker at a local ski slope, was meant to be funny, provocative and nonsensically ambiguous, Frederick said. To school officials, it was an open challenge to their anti-drug policies, at what they deemed a school event.

Principal Deborah Morse crossed the street and crumpled up the banner.

Frederick’s move – and the school’s stern response – had more impacts than he ever imagined. The incident gave way to his suspension from school, several arrests by Juneau police, a lawsuit against the city settled in his favor, the loss of his father’s job and, eventually, the departure of father and son from Alaska and the United States.

It also resulted in a court case, Morse v. Frederick, that has climbed through the federal system and will be up for oral argument in the Supreme Court on March 19.

Frederick, now 23, still sounded like the defiant student existentialist Friday in a teleconference from China, where he is teaching high school English.

“I wanted to know more precisely the boundaries of my freedom,” he said when reporters asked why he’d raised the banner. “I feel that if you don’t use your rights you lose them.” . . . . .[/quote]

The above article contains a lot more if you’re interested. And below are pictures of Mr. Frederick and his sign as it appeared in the actual incident.

How could one not want to attend law school after reading about a case like that? :slight_smile:

there’s a lot one could say about this case, but for me it comes down to:

[i]The stakes have grown big, but it was clear that on some level this was still about Camaro Joe with his nose in the face of an unbending school administration.

“They don’t want to admit that they’re wrong in any way,” he said.[/i]

The school won. :frowning: The US Supreme Court just issued its decision, finding the principal was within her rights to suspend a student for off-campus speach that she found offensive.

[quote]The Alaska high school student who unfurled a 14-foot banner with the odd message “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” insisted that it was a banner about nothing, a prank designed to get him and his friends on television as the Olympic torch parade went through Juneau en route to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

The school’s principal insisted, to the contrary, that the banner advocated, or at least celebrated, illegal drug use, and that the student, Joseph Frederick, should be punished for displaying it. She suspended him for 10 days.

On Monday, by a narrow margin, the Supreme Court backed the principal in a decision that showed the court deeply split over what weight to give to free speech in public schools. . .

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. spoke, at least nominally, for five of the six. He said for the court that Ms. Morse’s reaction to the banner, which was displayed off school property but at a school-sponsored event, was a reasonable one that did not violate the Constitution.

While the banner might have been nothing but “gibberish,” the chief justice said, it was reasonable for the principal, who “had to decide to act — or not act — on the spot,” to decide both that it promoted illegal drug use and that “failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge, including Frederick, about how serious the school was about the dangers of illegal drug use.

He added, “The First Amendment does not require schools to tolerate at school events student expression that contributes to those dangers.” . . .[/quote]
NYT article

So, apparently schools have a right to censor off campus speech that they find contrary to their values, though not all of the Justices agreed with that position.

[quote]Justice Stevens said that “carving out pro-drug speech for uniquely harsh treatment finds no support in our case law and is inimical to the values protected by the First Amendment.”

Noting that alcohol also posed a danger to teenagers, Justice Stevens wondered whether “the court would support punishing Frederick for flying a ‘Wine Sips 4 Jesus’ banner,” which he said might be seen as pro-religion as well as pro-alcohol.[/quote]

And here’s an interesting bit. Clarence Thomas stated his opinion that students have NO right to free speech in school.

Yikes. That’s almost enough to yank my kids out of school (if I had kids in school) and home-school them.

WHAT?! The school won? Holy crap. I’ve got to read that decision. What a crock of shit.

Hang on a minute, how was that associated with the school at all? It was a public event, on a public road, which was attended by many people, the majority of whom were probably not from that school anyway.

And as for Bong Hits, there are a multitude of things that could be smoked in a bong, ranging from parsley to tobacco, and to assume that it is all about illegal substance use is just that, an assumption.

You Americans are truly crazy. Sheesh!

Now if they’d said “Jesus was a Heroin Addict, Just like our Bitch school principal”, that’d be different.

Of course she’s not a junkie… she’s a methhead.

In the majority opinion. Roberts said a principal may restrict student speech at a school event when it is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use. Therefore, the majority of the Supreme Court viewed the students waiting for the Olympic torch relay as a school event.

The dissenting opinion is interesting. “Although this case began with a silly nonsensical banner, it ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs,” Stevens wrote. So now we have no First Amendment protection if drugs are mentioned.

Big Brother is watching you.