Court smokes students’ free speech

Adam Griffiths

Bong hits for peace. Bong hits for black squirrels. Bong hits for Bono.

But for the love of all things good and constitutional in this country, just don’t promote marijuana in the Lord’s name.

That’s the court opinion handed down last week from Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court case more commonly known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case.

In January 2002, the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Juneau, Alaska, and its Juneau-Douglas High School. Students and teachers stood outside the school to watch. During the event, a group of students standing across the street unfurled a 14-foot banner that read, “BONG HITS 4 JESUS.” Principal Deborah Morse demanded the banner be removed, citing the school’s no-tolerance policy for materials encouraging the use of illegal drugs.

One student, then senior Joseph Frederick, refused. Morse suspended him for ten days. Frederick appealed his suspension to the school board, but it was upheld and reduced to eight days. Frederick appealed his suspension to the District Court, which ruled in the school’s favor.

The Ninth Circuit Court reversed the ruling, citing a violation of Frederick’s First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court heard the case on two questions: “whether Frederick had a First Amendment right to wield his banner, and, if so, whether the right was so clearly established that the principal may be held liable for damages.”

Six justices ruled in favor of the suspension, and three filed dissenting opinions. “Because schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use, the school officials did not violate the First Amendment by confiscating the pro-drug banner and suspending Frederick.”

What a load of bull.

Two major court cases set precedent for the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case: Tinker v. DesMoines established that, unless it will disrupt the learning enviroment, student expression cannot be suppressed. And Fraser v. Bethel states that constitutional rights of students in public schools are not the same as rights of adults in a public context outside the school.

Schools must protect the students they educate, but the banner was merely a silly prank. (Frederick himself admitted it was only to gain the attention of media crews.)

Alas, there was no mass bong in Juneau that afternoon.

There is a laundry list of more prosecutable senior pranks in which students went practically unpunished. It was a waste of time and money for the Supreme Court to hear this case, and all we have to show for it is a caveat to the pre-existing precedence on free speech and student expression. More red tape. More bureaucracy.

And to that, I say bong the hell out of whatever you please.

Adam Griffiths is a sophomore magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]