Student Speech Deserves Constitutional Protection No Matter How
Strange It May Be
High school students have a right to free speech, even if that speech
concerns something controversial. This is a principle that the Supreme
Court has affirmed in the past, and one that it should reaffirm in
deciding a case it heard last week concerning a student who was
punished for displaying a drug-related message across the street from
The case concerns Joseph Frederick, a high school student who was
suspended for holding up a 14-foot banner that read "Bong Hits 4
Jesus" on the sidewalk next to his school at the 2002 Olympic torch
relay in Juneau, Alaska. His principal argued that the sign encouraged
drug use and interfered with the educational mission of the school.
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Schools Not Well Served If Second-Guessed by Courts
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says that they do, as long as they
advocate drug use without also causing a disturbance. The Supreme
Court, which took up the question this week, is likely to reverse --
the Ninth Circuit is already batting 0 for 9 in the Supreme Court this
term -- but the fact that this case is in the courts at all
demonstrates the absurdity of our current law regarding student speech.
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School Authority, Yes; Authoritarianism, No
It was a cold January day in 2002 when the Olympic torch was to pass
through Juneau, Alaska. Students at a local high school were released
from class so they could watch the ceremony.
They were not required to attend.
Some got bored and left. Some had snowball fights.
One, Joe Frederick, an 18-year-old senior who hadn't made it to school
that morning, arrived late. Standing across the street from the
school, Frederick unfurled a banner that said, "Bong hits 4 Jesus,"
and hoped to catch the attention of a television crew. He thought the
sign was funny and played right into an ongoing debate in Alaska about
marijuana and drug legalization. The school principal didn't think it
was funny but a contradiction of the school's anti-drug policy. She
crossed the street, tore up Frederick's banner and suspended him for
10 days. He sued her on free speech grounds
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A Supreme Case of Pettiness
For those who think South Florida condo battles are petty and go on
forever -- they are and they do -- consider the case of "Bong Hits 4
Quick summary: Hoping to get on TV, Alaska high school student Joseph
Frederick unfurls a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner, across from his school
as the Olympic torch relay passes through Juneau. The principal sees
the banner, says it violates the school's anti-drug mission, and
Frederick is suspended. He sues, and wins an appeal in Circuit Court,
which said, correctly, that Frederick's free speech rights were
violated. The incident wasn't on school property, and it didn't
disrupt students. A basic prank. Case closed, back to geometry class.
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The Supreme Court Mulls a Schoolboy Prank
THE American constitution protects the right to free speech even of
those who have nothing to say. Take, for example, the banner that
Joseph Frederick, then an 18-year-old schoolboy, unfurled beside an
Olympic parade in Alaska five years ago. It read: "Bong hits 4
Jesus". Was he mocking Christianity? Or promoting marijuana? Neither,
says Mr Frederick. He copied the slogan from a snowboard. He did not
think it meant anything particular. But he calculated that it would
be funny and controversial. Plus, it might get him on television.
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BROCKVILLE - A 37-year-old OPP police officer facing drug charges
will be spending at least the weekend in jail following a court
appearance in Brockville yesterday.
Const. Maurice Morrissette, who lives in Kemptville, made his first
court appearance following his arrest Thursday on charges of
trafficking of a controlled substance, two counts of possession of a
controlled substance and obstructing justice. His bail hearing was
adjourned until Monday, when it is believed his brother will be able
to attend and act as a surety for Const. Morrissette's release.
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We're baffled by two high-profile disciplinary decisions made by two
schools. One was to suspend a student in Juneau, Alaska, for waving a
"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner while the 2002 Olympic torch went by (a
prank pulled off school grounds and intended to get him on TV). The
school's overreaction to the minor prank has turned a joke into a
First Amendment case before the Supreme Court, with Kenneth Starr (!)
representing the Alaska school board. Kind of makes us wonder who is
really taking the bong hits.
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A case centering on a student's right to free speech could, if not
handled with care, undercut the authority of teachers and school
When students are in school they can't do what they like nor can they
say what they like. That's a widely accepted principle, and it's one
that is critical to ensure that teachers and administrators can keep
But what if the student is on the street just outside the
Well, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco
sided with a student who says he was unfairly punished by a high
school principal for unfurling a 14-foot banner that said "Bong Hits
4 Jesus" in front of the school. The student pulled the stunt for the
benefit of the TV crews filming the Olympic torch going through
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KRISTIN SOMERS was sitting in her 10th-grade English class at
Hackettstown High last year when a call came over the intercom
telling her to report to the office. Immediately.
An honors student with a 3.8 average here in northwestern New Jersey,
she wasn't being summoned to discuss her academic performance. And
while she participates in an array of after-school organizations -
from soccer and softball to the National Honor Society and Key Club -
the issue wasn't her extracurricular activities or future plans.
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