Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jul 2007
Source: Hamden Journal, The (CT)
Copyright: 2007 The Hamden Journal
Author: Kenneth Hoffman


The First Amendment took another hit last week. This time it wasn't
the so-called Patriot Act or an attempt to foist religion on atheists.

No, with those and similar attacks on our personal liberties, we could
always count on a well-chosen lawsuit to declare the
unconstitutionality of any given bill.

Not any more.

The Supreme Court of these United States, the highest court in the
land, has essentially decided that free speech is not for everyone.

Let me explain.

An 18-year-old young man named Joseph Frederick was about to graduate
from high school in Alaska about six years ago.

He had been involved in several disputes with his principal, Deborah

One such incident occurred when she called the police on him because
he refused to stop reading in the Library. (Heaven forbid that a
student read in the library!)

He also had been disciplined for refusing to stand for the Pledge of
Allegiance one morning.

In short, the two had a history.

So. It came to pass that the Olympic Torch was passing through the
town, and the students went outside to watch the runner.

Frederick crossed the street with several friends, one of whom was a
non-student, and held up a large sign that read," Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

Morse did not find this was as funny as I do.

She demanded that they take down the sign. All complied except, you
guessed it, Frederick.

She confiscated the banner and called him into her office. During that
meeting, she suspended him for 15 days.

Frederick said it was originally 10 days, but Morse added five more
days when he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said, "Speech limited is
speech lost."

He appealed to the school board, who supported Morse. He appealed to
the state courts, which upheld Morse.

Finally, he appealed to the Federal Appellate District Court. That
court, it seems, had a familiarity with the First Amendment and
overturned the previous rulings. It even saw fit to hold Morse
personally responsible for damages.

A fitting decision, I think.

Morse wasn't done yet, though. You remember Kenneth Starr from
Watergate, right?

Well, he volunteered to represent Morse, and they appealed to the
Supreme Court.

Their primary defense was: ahem...are you ready? Frederick disrupted
the education of his fellow students by displaying a pro-drug message.


Forgive me if I'm wrong, I don't think much education was occurring on
the sidewalk off school property.

Or perhaps the scene during the confiscation was Fredrick's

Oops. Morse actually began that disruption when she grabbed an
opportunity to lash out at a student who didn't treat her word as law.

It isn't law. Or wasn't, until now.

The Supreme Court decided 6 - 3 that the disturbance isn't even the

It was the drug message that was the problem.

Because "Bong hits 4 Jesus" refers to marijuana, the Supreme Court
said displaying it counts as a punishable offense.

I can't be more disappointed.

It is true that students have fewer rights than regular citizens. (A
ridiculous fact in and of itself.)

For some reason, we fear our young people. And no one is more afraid
than (some) school administrators.

They follow the "squash their spirit so they learn their place" theory
of population control.

(I need to stress that this is not true of all educators. But it is
for some.)

Over time it has become national policy. I think we owe the Columbine
shooters and their ilk for this one.

When those boys slaughtered their classmates, fear became the director
of the Department of Education, and our country began looking for ways
to keep these little terrorists in line.

So we outlaw t-shirts and adopt "zero tolerance" policies and pat each
other on the back for doing something.

Perhaps we should spend more time educating and less time worried
about what people wear or do outside of school.

Most of all, we should encourage, not inhibit, free expression. How
will the future of our country look if our leaders and free thinkers
are taught from Kindergarten to be sheep instead of men and women?

Pretty poor. Poor indeed.

I do not look forward to living in such a future. Remember students:
we have the right to peaceful assembly and free speech (except for
yelling "fire" in a theatre).

Use your rights wisely, but don't forget to use them. Otherwise they
will go away. If you don't learn to use them now, you won't know how
when it matters.

For the complete Supreme Court decision and the dissenting opinion,
visit the court's website at
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake