Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jun 2007
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2007 The Huntsville Times
Author: David Person (Joseph Frederick)


In an event that can only be described as prescient, some kid at my 
parochial high school slipped into the boys restroom to get high.

I know this not because I saw him, but because of the distinctively 
sweet yet pungent odor that lingered. Since our school's curriculum 
featured Bible classes, regular chapel services and other such 
religious activities, I may well have inhaled the aftermath of one of 
the original "Bong hits 4 Jesus."

OK, that's probably stretching it. I'd never even seen a bong back 
then. Kids on the south side of Chicago who wanted to get high in the 
late 1970s smoked joints.

But you get the point. Jesus and "Mary Jane" have probably collided 
many times in unexpected places, but certainly no more famously than 
when young Joseph Frederick of Juneau, Alaska, displayed a "Bong Hits 
4 Jesus" banner at a school-sanctioned event in 2002.

Deborah Morse, his principal at Juneau-Douglas High, confiscated the 
banner, suspended Frederick and Morse v. Frederick, an important 
Supreme Court case, was born.

Frederick said Morse had violated his free-speech rights. Morse said 
that the banner promoted the use of illegal drugs - after all, the 
recreational use of marijuana is against the law in all 50 states - 
and she had the right to take the banner and kick Frederick out of school.

No surprise, I guess, that five of the justices sided with the principal.

Probably also no surprise that I side with the four who agreed with Frederick.

Alaska is one of 12 states that allows marijuana to be used for 
medicinal purposes. So what if Frederick's banner had said "Medicinal 
Bong Hits 4 Jesus"? Would he still have been suspended from school? 
And would the court have still upheld the principal's right to suspend him?

But maybe those questions don't matter since Frederick's argument was 
about free speech, not the smoking marijuana for medical purposes.

So here's my argument: Students should be able to debate 
controversial issues in our society just as adults do. Frederick was 
doing just that with his banner and he did it in a way that didn't 
imply the endorsement of the school.

That should be protected speech.

Another question: What if instead of "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," the banner 
had said "I love Jesus" or "What would Jesus do?" Would he have been 
suspended then? And if so, what would the court's ruling have been?

I suspect Frederick would not have missed a day in school. And if by 
some strange twist he had, the court likely would have switched 
sides, ruling that a traditional Christian message by a student would 
have been protected speech.

In this hypothetical, I'd side with the court. Students should have a 
right to express their religious beliefs, even in public schools such 
as Juneau-Douglas High.

Student speech may be one of the purest examples of free speech, in 
that it truly grows up from the grass roots. It has no institutional 
agenda, even if it reflects traditional, institutional views.

Public school teachers and administrators, on the other hand, are 
paid to represent the school board. They should not endorse either 
bong hits or Jesus while on the job.

One final question: Could it be that Frederick's real offense was 
that he had the audacity to mesh recreational drug use with Christianity?

I don't know what Morse's religious views are, but I don't doubt that 
many Christian people would say that "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" is blasphemous.

And maybe it is. But if speech is to be truly free, then it must be 
allowed to be what it is, even if blasphemous.

Seems to me, though, that if a kid who gets high also believes in 
Jesus, he's halfway down the church aisle. And most of the preachers 
I've seen would be more than happy to walk with him the rest of the 
way to the altar.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom