'Bong' Banner Tests Student Free Speech

'Bong' Banner Tests Student Free Speech
Posted by CN Staff on March 16, 2007 at 11:48:44 PT
By Mark Sherman, Associated Press
Source: Associated Press
Washington, DC -- The message connected drug use and religion in a nonsensical phrase that was designed to provoke, and it got Joseph Frederick in a heap of trouble.After he unfurled his 14-foot "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner on a Juneau, Alaska, street one winter morning in 2002, Frederick got a 10-day school suspension. Five years later, he has a date Monday at the Supreme Court in what is shaping up as an important test of constitutional rights.
Students don't leave their right to free speech at the school door, the high court said in a Vietnam-era case over an anti-war protest by high school students.But neither can students be disruptive or lewd or interfere with a school's basic educational mission, the court also has said.How to strike that balance is the question, particularly since the Columbine massacre and the Sept. 11 attacks have made teachers and administrators quicker to tamp down on unruly or unusual behavior.Other student speech cases making their way through the courts include a student who was pulled from class after taping an anti-gay message to his shirt and a middle schooler who got into trouble for a shirt that uses symbols of drugs and alcohol to criticize President Bush.Unlike the Vietnam protesters who won their court fight in the late 1960s, Frederick says he was not staking out a political position with the banner he fashioned with pieces of duct tape as lettering."What the banner said was, 'Look here, I have the right to free speech and I'm asserting it.' I wasn't trying to say anything religious, anything about drugs," Frederick said in a telephone news conference from China, where he now teaches English and studies Mandarin.An array of groups, from advocates of drug law changes to gay rights backers to supporters of religious freedom, have lined up behind him. "This case is not about drugs. This case is about speech," said Douglas Mertz of Juneau, Frederick's lawyer.The Bush administration, school boards, anti-drug groups and former drug control directors William Bennett and Barry McCaffrey are supporting the Juneau schools and principal Deborah Morse. They say that the court should support school administrators who impose reasonable limits on student expression and that those limits should extend to promotion of illegal drugs."It was the wrong message, at the wrong time and in the wrong place," said former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who is representing the school district free of charge, in court papers.Frederick had previous run-ins with school administrators before the banner dispute. He said he first saw the slogan on a snowboard and thought it would make a good test of his rights because, though meaningless, it sounds provocative.He chose to display the banner during a school-sanctioned event to watch the Olympic torch relay as it passed through Juneau on its way to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.Morse saw the banner, confronted Frederick and suspended him. Frederick said she doubled the suspension to 10 days when he quoted Thomas Jefferson on free speech.Frederick, helped by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the principal and the Juneau school district. He lost in federal district court, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Frederick's rights were violated and that Morse could be held financially liable for her actions.Among the factors that could weigh in the decision, Frederick was standing on public property, not school grounds when he displayed the banner. The school said students were allowed to leave class to see the torch pass by, making the event school-sanctioned. Frederick, however, never made it to school that day before the event.The other issue in the case is whether the principal should have to compensate Frederick. The appeals court said Morse should have known that her decision to suspend Frederick ran counter to Supreme Court precedent. But Starr said she made a reasonable, on-the-spot decision that, even if wrong, should not subject her to a "potentially ruinous damages award."Frederick, now 23, said he later had to drop out of college after his father lost his job. The elder Frederick, who worked for the company that insures the Juneau schools, was fired in connection with his son's legal fight, the son said. A jury recently awarded Frank Frederick $200,000 in a lawsuit he filed over his firing.Joseph Frederick pleaded guilty in 2004 to a misdemeanor charge of selling marijuana at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nagodoches, Texas, according to court records. Source: Associated Press (Wire)Author: Mark Sherman, Associated Press Published:  March 16, 2007Copyright: 2007 Associated Press Related Articles:Court Case Tests Limits of Student Speech Rights Hits Saga Enters Year Five
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Comment #7 posted by Richard Zuckerman on March 19, 2007 at 11:02:40 PT:
All of the published court decisions hold that the biggest violation of free speech is when the reason for the sanction is the substance of the speech.By the way, has anybody read the article in claiming Timothy McVeigh worked under the direction of the F.B.I.??? Oh, I'm a "conspiracy theorist" am I??? Why, then, did J. Edgar Hoover state to the effect: "The people are faced with a conspiracy so far reaching they won't believe it"???????Please call Congress at their toll free telephone number, (866) 340-9281 and ask your Congressmen and U.S. Senators:[1] Support H.R. 1009 (February 13, 2007), known as the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007";[2] Support House Congressional Resolution 40 ["H. Con. Res. 40"](January 22, 2007) which OPPOSES the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" (SPP), opposes the "North American Union", opposes the NAFTA Superhighways, for the reasons described in;;; The "Broken Borders" segment on Lou Dobbs on CNN,, televised every night at 6 P.M. Eastern Standard Time or whatever time in your time zone;[3] Support H.R. 563 (January 18, 2007), known as the "Congressional Pardon for Border Patrol Agents Ramos and Compean Act";[4] Legalize, regulate, and tax "Marijuana" for the tremendous tax revenue that WOULD be made for the people, for the reasons expressed by;;[5] Withdraw the troops from Iraq and stop funding the war.Please call your State legislators and local politicans for the same stuff you asked Congress? Montana passed House Joint Resolution 25 rejecting the Security & Prosperity Partnership (SPP), the NAFTA Highways, by a vote of 94 to 5. LETS PUT THEIR FEET TO THE FIRE, PEOPLE????????!!! 
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Comment #6 posted by charmed quark on March 17, 2007 at 08:29:52 PT
Disruption at a school sanctioned event
In the school had just argued that they were suspending him for disrupting a school sanctioned event ( basically a field trip equivalent) I would have been amused and thought nothing of it. If a school sanctioned event is the same as a field trip I agree the school has a right to punish disruption ( although there is the argument that since he hadn't gone to school that day he wasn't participating in the school event).But the retoric coming from the school district really seems to indicate they are punishing him for WHAT he said rather than that he was disruptive. And all this stuff about how we have to five up on free speech because of 9/11 makes my head want to explode, too. The quote attributed to Ben Franklin comes to mind - "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security" I love the part about the school official doubling his suspension when the kid quoted T. Jefferson on free speech at him.
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Comment #5 posted by Richard Zuckerman on March 16, 2007 at 19:38:20 PT:
"Too many men are being driven to become government fearing and time-serving because the Government is being permitted to strike out at those who are fearless enough to think as they please and say what they think. This trend must be halted if we are to keep faith with the Founders of our Nation and pass on to future generations of Americans the great heritage of freedom which they sacrificed so much to leave us. The choice is clear to me. If we are to pass on that great heritage of freedom, we must return to the original language of the Bill of Rights. We must not be afraid to be free." Re Anastaplo, 366 U.S. 82, 116 (1961) (Dissenting opinion by Associate Justice Hugo L. Black).Interesting worded T-shirts may be purchased from High Times Magazine has published at least two articles describing the use of Cannabis in religion. It should be mentioned during oral argument to The Court. If this case gets to a trial, plaintiff may want to consider asking for an ADVISORY JURY. Advisory juries: Using jury trials in courts of equity, 15 NJL 2195 [October 16, 2006],, by Lawrence R. Jones, Esq., whose law office is located in Toms River, New Jersey. 
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Comment #4 posted by RevRayGreen on March 16, 2007 at 17:20:35 PT:
Joe lives over in the Orient now
I've been trying to get him to add me here for 6 anyone has a myspace send him some
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Comment #3 posted by Toker00 on March 16, 2007 at 14:03:33 PT
Free Speech/9-11/Bong Hits for ____ !
What if the banner had read: "Bong hits for Olympic Athletes"? or "Bong hits for Republicans"? or "Bong hits for Bush"? Was it the name JESUS that did it? Or just the word Bong? Because there was nothing unruly nor unusual about unfurling a banner. What if the banner had said "I love America?" Same response? I doubt it. I'm sure the "over reaction" would have been replaced with a sick grin for Nationalism."How to strike that balance is the question, particularly since the Columbine massacre and the Sept. 11 attacks have made teachers and administrators quicker to tamp down on unruly or unusual behavior"Unfurling a banner at a National event is not "unusual or unruly". The "balance" was struck when the first decision was made. What they are trying to do is wreck that balance and blame it on what happened in Columbine and on Sept. 11. What happened? A couple of kids minds were warped by video games and a lifestyle that is stifling to creative energy. On Sept. 11, The American Fascist Party, better known as the Republican Party, lead by the "Crazies" who have had a lust for our Liberty and for World Ownership for decades, carried out a long planned assault on the World, which actually began when the "Election" was stolen in a Crazies Coup. in 2000. The American People are at this time desperately trying to stabilize the foundation of our Democratic Republic. Are we starting to stand up after waking up? Zandor, the decision could become the first tear in the First Amendment, or it could become the bandage that heals our Democracy. It could make it restrictive to protest, or it could give us the courage to protest even louder. What part of "FREEDOM" of Speech don't they get?Toke. 
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Comment #2 posted by dongenero on March 16, 2007 at 12:52:25 PT
whose message?
If I hear the term "wrong message" one more time, I think my head is going to explode.There should be a moratorium on politicians and commentators ever using this BS, catch-all, code word, phrase again.If you have something sensible to say, then say it. Otherwise, quit moving your mouth for the sake of a comment.
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Comment #1 posted by Zandor on March 16, 2007 at 12:19:16 PT:
What does 9-11 have to do with Freedom of Speach?
"How to strike that balance is the question, particularly since the Columbine massacre and the Sept. 11 attacks have made teachers and administrators quicker to tamp down on unruly or unusual behavior"Again this is going way beyond just control, this is 100% pure fascism by definition.Definition:
a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.This behavior must be stopped!!
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