Student Free Speech vs. School Drug Policy

  Student Free Speech vs. School Drug Policy

Posted by CN Staff on March 18, 2007 at 15:11:13 PT
By Warren Richey, Staff Writer of The CSM 
Source: Christian Science Monitor 

Washington, DC -- A dispute over a student prank near a high school in Juneau, Alaska, is raising constitutional questions about student free speech and whether school officials can be sued for damages when they take action to muzzle a teenager's attempt at humor. On Monday, the US Supreme Court takes up a case involving a student-displayed banner that proclaimed: "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."
At issue is whether a high school principal violated the free-speech rights of a student in 2002 when she confiscated the banner and suspended the student for 10 days after he and others unfurled the sign in front of much of the student body and local television cameras. The principal's action was upheld by the school superintendent, the Juneau School Board, and a federal judge. But a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the federal judge, ruling that the principal could be sued personally for money damages for violating the student's clearly established free-speech rights. To Deborah Morse, principal of Juneau- Douglas High School, the banner glorified illegal marijuana use in violation of the school's antidrug policies. "Promotion of illegal drug use and the drug culture is uniquely undeserving of First Amendment protection in the school setting," writes Kenneth Starr, former US solicitor general and a former appeals-court judge, in his brief on behalf of Ms. Morse. The student, Joseph Frederick, and his lawyers say the principal is misconstruing the case by portraying the central issue as whether schools have the authority to prohibit pro-drug statements by students while on school grounds. The banner was never displayed on school property during a school-sponsored activity, they say, and it did not cause any disruption to the educational process. "This case is not about drugs. This case is about speech," says Juneau lawyer Douglas Mertz in his brief to the court on behalf of Mr. Frederick. Ramifications for Both Sides The case is being closely watched by school administrators and antidrug officials who are concerned that a ruling upholding the appeals court could undercut school efforts to foster a drug-free atmosphere. On the other side are free-speech advocates who worry that a Supreme Court endorsement of the principal's approach would open the door to widespread censorship of students. "[Morse has] asked the court to enunciate a very broad rule that school officials have discretion to censor any kind of student speech that they deem contrary to the educational mission of the school," says Preeta Bansal, a New York lawyer who authored a friend-of-the-court brief for the National Coalition Against Censorship. Such discretion would be standardless and "very dangerous," she says. In his brief, Mr. Mertz asks the justices to examine whether school administrators have the power to censor speech solely because it disagrees with the school's own preferred message. "There is no dispute that schools have an important message to deliver regarding the perils of drug abuse," he writes. "But the First Amendment recognizes a critical distinction between delivering that message to students and imposing an enforced orthodoxy that tramples free speech." The case revolves around an incident that took place in January 2002 when the Olympic torch relay passed through Juneau on its way to Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. The torch was set to be carried down Glacier Avenue in front of the high school. School officials allowed students to assemble in front of the school to watch the event. As the torch and television cameras approached, Frederick and nine other individuals standing across the street from the school unfurled the banner, which was 14 feet in length. The banner was meant as a meaningless and humorous phrase that might attract the attention of the TV cameras covering the relay, Mertz says. It was a joke, not an advertisement urging students to use illicit drugs, the lawyer says in his brief. But if it were just a joke, the principal wasn't laughing. She crossed the street and confronted those holding the banner. Frederick refused to take it down, saying he had a First Amendment right to display the banner since he was across the street and off school grounds. Frederick says he told the school administrator that Thomas Jefferson once said that free speech can't "be limited without being lost." The principal confiscated the banner and suspended Frederick from school for 10 days. Limits Already OK'd By The CourtThe Supreme Court has ruled in earlier cases that while students possess free-speech rights, those rights can be limited by school officials when students are participating in school- sponsored activities and their speech is disruptive. The question presented in Morse v. Frederick is how and when those limits may be imposed. Mr. Starr says the case is about whether school officials have the authority to enforce a school policy against displaying messages that promote illegal drug use. He says if the Ninth Circuit ruling stands, school officials will not only be unable to enforce their rules, but they may also be sued by students for damages for trying to enforce an antidrug atmosphere. "The Ninth Circuit has dramatically altered the legal landscape of public education law in the United States," Starr says. "The court of appeals' uncompromisingly libertarian vision is deeply unsettling to public school educators across the country." Mertz says the case does not implicate a school board's power to enforce an antidrug message at school. His client was not on school property, and the torch relay was a citywide Olympic event, not a school event, he says. Starr concedes that the banner was not on school property, but he says the viewing of the torch relay was a school-related activity and that school officials maintain authority over students attending school-related activities. The banner disrupted and undermined the school's antidrug mission, he says. A decision in the case is expected by June.Note: The US Supreme Court is set to hear the case of an Alaska teen who was suspended after unfurling a banner near school.Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)Author: Warren Richey, Staff Writer of The Christian Science Monitor Published: March 19, 2007 Edition Copyright: 2007 The Christian Science Publishing SocietyContact: oped csps.comWebsite: Related Articles: Bong Banner Free-Speech Dispute To Hit SC Court Takes On 'Bong Hits' Case Divides Bush and Religious Right 

Home    Comment    Email    Register    Recent Comments    Help


Comment #14 posted by whig on March 19, 2007 at 08:32:29 PT

Quickie banner
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #13 posted by whig on March 19, 2007 at 08:21:29 PT

Rev Ray Green, that's brilliant. I give you credit, I hope you won't mind if I just go ahead and start using it.
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #12 posted by charmed quark on March 19, 2007 at 07:25:41 PT

It's about education, too
The school is arguing that student speech “may be banned if it is inconsistent with a school’s basic educational mission.”
In this case, they are arguing that "bong hits for Jesus" was inconsistent with their anti-drug policy.If this is allowed to stand, then it means a kid can be punished for writting a report about why the drug war is not a good approach to a public health problem. Or for debating the merits of medical marijuana on school grounds.In other words, any support for ideas that are inconsistent with the school "educational mission" would be banned.
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #11 posted by OverwhelmSam on March 19, 2007 at 05:39:48 PT

If The School Loses
They are using our schools to promote government policy. If the SC rules against the school, it will open the flood gates to sue schools across the country and take control of our children back and away from the public schools and the government.Too bad for the principal. I live by a simple philosophy, Don't start nothing, and there won't be nothing. But if you start it, it's on... 
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #10 posted by potpal on March 19, 2007 at 05:21:25 PT

ot - drug war
Who would have thought that prohibition, the American War on some drugs, would have a corrupting effect on policemen? 
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #9 posted by mayan on March 19, 2007 at 04:27:49 PT

Swiftboat Giuliani
We must expose Giuliani before he gets rewarded with the presidency for his role in the 9/11 inside job.Firemen douse Rudy’s image as 9/11 hero:
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #8 posted by Toker00 on March 19, 2007 at 04:24:02 PT

Bong Hits 4 Ken Starr. SSDP Protests today. our Constitutional Rights kick in only outside of the educational system? What other rights do we have to give up for an education? What about those career students? Will they never have Freedom of Speech? If he didn't go to school that day, how was he representing the school? Can the school nullify Freedom of Speech without an Amendment to the Constitution? Will all books be banned in the schools that deal with the subject of the Drug Culture? Like Dare material? Today, I would like everyone to say the words Bong Hits 4 Jesus to at least one other person. Or Bong Hits 4 _____ your favorite. Why? Because our children may become victims of Dictators and be the first generation to lose their rights for eighteen years of their lives. They are already forced to attend, forced to endure shake downs, forced to take medications. Now they will be forced to SHUT UP? What good are our rights if you can't use them for the first part of your life, and only within a "zone" afterwards? We should all be up in arms. Literally.Toke. 
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #7 posted by Dan B on March 19, 2007 at 03:36:14 PT

Anti-drug Mission?
"The banner disrupted and undermined the school's antidrug mission, he says."This quotation is quite telling. The school officials evidently believe that the purpose of the school is to keep kids from using--nay, even talking about--drugs. And we wonder why the majority of our American public school graduates need to take remedial reading, writing and math classes before they can take basic college classes in these subjects? The mission of the school should be to do the following: (1) to teach students life skills that will help them to obtain and maintain a job once they graduate, (2) to help students understand their world and the diverse populations that reside there, and (3) to teach students about their country, including the freedoms that they are supposed to be guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The problem here is that the school officials believe students should never be exposed to viewpoints that differ from the school's official viewpoint. Too bad. So much could have been learned by using the banner as a way to foster discussion about American values--both values related to drugs and their use, and those related to freedoms that all of us should defend and hold dear.What a pity that these educators have no understanding of what it means to educate.Dan B
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #6 posted by RevRayGreen on March 18, 2007 at 23:44:30 PT

Show Joe some love  I yet to read if he's going to be called to testify ?I'm starting a campaign to put up signs with the acronym
BH4J in green letters, just to get people talking.Subliminal guerilla marketing at it's
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #5 posted by HempWorld on March 18, 2007 at 21:20:45 PT

Slip slidin' away... (your rights) ...
As we have seen with the most recent decision on Raich in the 9th Circuit, with the Supreme court's earlier decisions on anything having to do with marijuana, and on the FDA's stance on the issue etc. etc., after compassion, common sense and science, freedom of speech is next on the chopping block in the war on a plant(s).Marijuana is such a formidable opponent you can just see your rights melt away!On the other hand Joseph Frederick is getting a lot of bang for his 'buck'! Marijuana again has the national attention (lots of free advertising). No wonder the industry has grown ten-fold in the last 20 years! Way to go ...I wish it would also promote the fact that Jesus used marijuana indeed!
Nobody can stop this!
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #4 posted by The GCW on March 18, 2007 at 21:19:05 PT

A new and interesting twist:
CN BC: God Bless Parents Who Drugged Us! Green Collar Worker
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #3 posted by legalizeit on March 18, 2007 at 19:58:13 PT

Ya got a point, toker00...
.. if the banner had instead said, "Jack Daniel's Shots for Jesus," I bet we wouldn't be reading this right now.Don't do drugs, except for the ones that have received Uncle Sam's (and corporate interests') blessing!
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #2 posted by whig on March 18, 2007 at 19:05:29 PT

Any problem wearing clothing with corporate sponsorship on them to school? I didn't think so.
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #1 posted by Toker00 on March 18, 2007 at 18:41:52 PT

Natural Drugs: Bad Culture.
"Promotion of illegal drug use and the drug culture is uniquely undeserving of First Amendment protection in the school setting," writes Kenneth Starr, former US solicitor general and a former appeals-court judge, in his brief on behalf of Ms. Morse.Of course, promotion of LEGAL drug use and the LEGAL drug culture IS uniquely deserving of First Amendment a matter of fact, anything that creates Corporate Capital IS deserving of First Amendment protection in ANY setting, but peaceful loving people are not. Peaceful People are Profit Preventative.Drug Culture. Is that what we are? Is that ALL we are to them? Not humans living differently, but Drug Culture. Drugs are good. Take them. Take lots of them as long as they do not start taking you. DRUGS ARE GOOD. Take them. Unless you do not want to take them. Unless they harm you. Unless you WANT to be a member of the Drug-less Culture. Other wise, use drugs safely and have a good celebration of LIFE! That's what drugs are for, anyway. That, and healing. I just want to use one "drug", cannabis, for both, is that so bad?Toke.
[ Post Comment ]

  Post Comment