Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jun 2007
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Author: Felicia Kitzmiller


School Districts Have Ability To Censor Speech

The Supreme Court of the United States extended the  ability of school
districts to censor the speech of  high school students on Monday, and
some Anderson-area  students are concerned about what the ruling will
mean  for them.

In 2002 Joseph Frederick, then an 18-year-old high  school senior in
Juneau, Ala., displayed a 14-foot  banner that read "BONG HITS 4
JESUS" as the Olympic  torch passed through his town. Mr. Frederick
was  suspended from school when he refused to take it down.

The school board said though Mr. Frederick was off  school grounds,
students had been dismissed from  classes to attend the parade and
were accompanied by  teachers, making it a school event. Principal
Deborah  Morse felt that the banner advocated drug use and  violated
the school's drug policy. Mr. Frederick said  the phrase was

Mr. Frederick fought the suspension, and the case went  all the way to
the Supreme Court. The majority opinion  written by Chief Justice John
Roberts said it was  reasonable for the principal to interpret the
banner as  advocating drug use, and she did not act contrary to  the
First Amendment by confiscating it.

"Students' free speech must be balanced against the  school's
educational mission to educate students about  the dangers of drugs
and discourage their use,"  according to the opinion.

Jay Bender, Reid H. Montgomery Freedom of Information  Professor at
the University of South Carolina, said the  recent decision worried
him because it gave one person  the ability to interpret someone
else's speech, and  punish the speaker based on one of multiple

"Previously speech had to be disruptive (to be  censored) where this
one was not," Mr. Bender said.

Sheila Hilton, assistant principal for instruction at  T.L. Hanna High
School in Anderson, said it boils down  to the ability of a school to
maintain order and she  would have done the same thing as Ms. Morse.

"In a school setting, in order to maintain an  atmosphere conducive to
learning there has to be some  ability to censor certain things," she
said. "It's like  profanity."

Students aren't so sure.

"I definitely think that it (the opinion) will affect  students
rights," said A.J. Ethridge, a 15-year-old  junior at Hart County High
School in Georgia. "It  doesn't really worry me now because it is just
one  case, but if there are more, yeah."

"He should be able to say what he wants," said  16-year-old Brittany
Shaw, a junior at Palmetto High  School in Williamston who disagreed
with the court's  opinion. "You decide what what you say means.
Someone  else can't tell you."

"They tell you you can say what you want, but you  really can't," said
Kirstie Brady, a 16-year-old junior  at Westside High School in
Anderson, about most  schools' student free speech policies.
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