Tuesday, March 20

Bong Hits 4 Jesus.

Five years later. I believe the student is now a young teacher in China, if I can believe the radio media (NPR). It's a lot about nothing (my opinion) but quite interesting with the attention it's garnered.

Wiki version:
In January 2002, students were released from Juneau-Douglas High School to watch the Olympic torch pass by. Frederick, running late that day, did not report to school before joining some friends on a sidewalk across the street. Frederick and his friends waited for the television cameras so they could unfurl a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." When they displayed the banner, then-principal Deborah Morse ran across the street and seized it.

Morse initially suspended Joseph Frederick for five days for violating the school district's anti-drug policy, but increased the suspension to 10 days after he refused to give the names of his fellow participants and quoted
Thomas Jefferson on free speech. Frederick administratively appealed his suspension to the Superintendent, who denied his appeal but limited it to the time Frederick had already spent out of school prior to his appeal to the Superintendent (eight days).

Frederick then appealed to the Juneau School Board, which upheld the suspension on March 19, 2002. On April 25, 2002, Frederick filed a §1983 lawsuit against Morse and the school board in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska claiming they violated his federal and state constitutional rights to free speech.

Anchorage Daily News:
What did his banner mean?
A bong is a water pipe for smoking marijuana. As for the rest of it -- Frederick said he was wanted a nonsensical, funny, provocative phrase to get on TV and make a point about free speech.

School officials said the banner promoted drug use, violating school policy.

"I wasn't trying to spread any idea. I was just trying to assert my right."
-- Joseph Frederick

"Debate in a social studies class would be fine. That's protected and encouraged speech. But promotion of drug use outside class is not."
-- Current Juneau School Superintendent Peggy Cowan

CNN version:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court entered into a free-speech dispute Friday involving a high school student suspended over a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner.
The justices accepted an appeal from a school board in Juneau, Alaska, after a federal appeals court allowed a lawsuit by the family of Joseph Frederick to proceed.

Frederick was suspended in 2002 after he unfurled the 14-foot-long banner -- a reference to marijuana use -- just outside school grounds as the Olympic torch relay moved through the Alaskan capital headed for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Bong," as noted in the appeal filed with the justices, "is a slang term for drug paraphernalia."
Even though Frederick was standing on a public sidewalk, school officials argue that he and other students were participating in a school-sponsored event. They had been let out of classes and were accompanied by their teachers.
Principal Deborah Morse ordered the 18-year-old senior to take down the sign, but he refused. That led to a 10-day suspension for violating a school policy by promoting illegal drug use.

He filed suit, saying his First Amendment rights were infringed upon. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, agreed, concluding the school could not show Frederick had disrupted the school's educational mission by showing a banner off campus.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court relied on the Supreme Court's famous 1969 "Tinker" case, in which two Iowa high students were allowed to continue wearing anti-Vietnam War armbands.

But the justices in other appeals involving free speech have ruled against students' ability to give sexually suggestive speech, and in favor of a school's right to restrict what is published in student newspapers.

Attorney Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who investigated President Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, is representing the school board.

Starr, who is now dean of the law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, urged the high court in his appeal brief to clear up the "doctrinal fog infecting student speech jurisprudence."

According to an Associated Press report, Starr is handling the case free of charge.
The case will test school's ability to regulate speech on illegal drugs, particularly when it is done off school grounds.

The appeal will likely be argued in late February, with a ruling expected by late June.

My thoughts:
On public property
Not on school grounds.

Free speech.

The Supreme Court will spend too much time on this; verdict in June.

I've seen worse things on bumper stickers, tee shirts, decals on the back windows of trucks, or (newly noticed by me) things hanging on truck hitches


olivia said...

Hi there. Have been hearing about this up here too. Starr was stating his case that the principal had a duty to enforce rules of the school, and for this reason falls outside of free speech laws.

Hope you're doing well -- got anything growing in the garden yet?

busterp said...

Hi Olivia.
Funny you mentioned garden. My neighbor just last night was reminding me that potatoes have to planted on Good Friday. Ha. Too cold yet but slowly improving.

Hope all is well with you.

Toccata said...

I've seen worse on bumper stickers for sure but I can tell you my parents would have kicked my butt, figuratively speaking, and there is no way I would have been allowed to yammer on about free speech. The entire episode would have ended there which is where it should have ended.

The Sarcasticynic said...

Maybe the kid should claim he left off part of the sign. It should have said, "Bong Hits 4, Jesus 9."

busterp said...

Hi cynic. I like that. And it would have made things so much easier. Ha.

Johnny Yen said...

As much as I love what he did, and as much as I hate Ken Starr, my teacher's response is this: "in loco parentis--" when a child is with us, we have the rights and responsibilities of parents. We have the right to search lockers without their permission (like it was their bedroom) and are in general responsible for their health and safety. It took place on school time-- whether he was in the school or outside of it, he was still under the supervision of the teacher and school administrators. They absolutely had the right to make him take the sign down. It shouldn't have even made it to court.

busterp said...

I had mixed feelings on it myself, but there's one thing we seem to agree on: it shouldn't have made it to court. It should have come down and the subject dropped.