Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jun 2007
Source: News Leader, The (VA)
Copyright: 2007 News Leader
Bookmark: (Bong Hits 4 Jesus)


Anyone who believes that the Supreme Court is only about Dred Scott
and Roe v. Wade hasn't paid attention to some of the rulings handed
down this week. Most of the time America's highest court gets so far
down in the nap of the carpet it's amazing they can get anything
accomplished -- anything of earth-shattering importance, at any rate.

Take this week's split decisions about the First Amendment as they
apply to student speech on campus, for instance.

In one case, that of Joseph Frederick, who unfurled a banner reading
"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a school-sanctioned event in Juneau,
Alaska, in 2002. Frederick, who was then a high school senior, had his
banner torn down by the school's principal and was suspended for
making his little statement -- whatever it may have been about, which
was more than some of the Court's justices could fathom; Justice John
Paul Stevens noted that it was "a nonsense message, not advocacy."
Whatever the case, it wasn't compelling enough to prevail as protected
speech. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the majority in
Monday's ruling, "The 'special characteristics of the school
environment' ... and the governmental interest in stopping student
drug abuse -- reflected in the policies of Congress and myriad school
boards, including (that of Juneau-Douglas High School) -- allow
schools to restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as
promoting illegal drug use.

Or, to put it more succinctly, "when in doubt, just say 'no.'"

There's good news for students who prefer to use articles of clothing
to promote their political views, however -- even if drugs and alcohol
figure in the message somehow.

On Friday, the Supremes ruled in favor of a seventh-grader from
Vermont who was suspended for wearing a shirt that bore images of
cocaine and a martini glass -- but also had messages calling President
Bush a lying drunk driver who abused cocaine and marijuana and a
"chicken-hawk-in-chief" engaged in a "world domination tour." The
political messages were sufficiently in the forefront to cancel out
the drug and alcohol imagery. We can only suppose that a shirt
sporting sexual references and messages about adultery and fornication
would pass muster with the justices so long as it also carried an
indictment of former President Bill Clinton.

In any case, it raises some interesting questions about whether
students who have been suspended or at least asked to cover up shirts
bearing images of the Confederate flag might not now have a legal leg
to stand on. We suppose that as long as the message sent has a
grounding in politics of some sort or another, it's OK.

Opinions expressed in this feature represent the majority opinion of
the newspaper's editorial board, consisting of: Roger Watson,
president and publisher; David Fritz, executive editor; Cindy Corell,
local editor; Jim McCloskey, editorial cartoonist; and Dennis Neal,
community conversations editor.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek