Vote Against Banner Shows Divide on Speech 

Vote Against Banner Shows Divide on Speech 
Posted by CN Staff on June 26, 2007 at 05:27:41 PT
By Linda Greenhouse
Source: New York Times
Washington, DC -- The Alaska high school student who unfurled a 14-foot banner with the odd message “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” insisted that it was a banner about nothing, a prank designed to get him and his friends on television as the Olympic torch parade went through Juneau en route to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.The school’s principal insisted, to the contrary, that the banner advocated, or at least celebrated, illegal drug use, and that the student, Joseph Frederick, should be punished for displaying it. She suspended him for 10 days.
On Monday, by a narrow margin, the Supreme Court backed the principal in a decision that showed the court deeply split over what weight to give to free speech in public schools.Six justices voted to overturn a federal appeals court’s ruling that left the principal, Deborah Morse, liable for damages for violating Mr. Frederick’s First Amendment rights.Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. spoke, at least nominally, for five of the six. He said for the court that Ms. Morse’s reaction to the banner, which was displayed off school property but at a school-sponsored event, was a reasonable one that did not violate the Constitution.While the banner might have been nothing but “gibberish,” the chief justice said, it was reasonable for the principal, who “had to decide to act — or not act — on the spot,” to decide both that it promoted illegal drug use and that “failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge, including Frederick, about how serious the school was about the dangers of illegal drug use.”He added, “The First Amendment does not require schools to tolerate at school events student expression that contributes to those dangers.”Four other justices, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., signed the chief justice’s opinion, although Justice Thomas took a much different approach. He said that Mr. Frederick had no First Amendment rights to violate. “In light of the history of American public education,” Justice Thomas said, “it cannot seriously be suggested that the First Amendment ‘freedom of speech’ encompasses a student’s right to speak in public schools.” The court’s precedents had become incoherent, he said, adding, “I am afraid that our jurisprudence now says that students have a right to speak in school except when they don’t.”The sixth justice, Stephen G. Breyer, did not sign the chief justice’s opinion, but wrote separately to say that the First Amendment issue was sufficiently cloudy that the court should have avoided deciding it. Instead, he said, the court should have ruled in the principal’s favor on the alternative ground that she was entitled to immunity from the student’s lawsuit.Under the court’s doctrine of “qualified immunity,” government officials may not be sued for damages unless they have violated “clearly established” rights “of which a reasonable person would have known.”There were additional shades of opinion within the chief justice’s majority. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Kennedy, wrote separately to emphasize what they said was the narrowness of the court’s holding. They said the decision should be understood as limited to speech advocating drug use, and noted that the court had not endorsed the much broader argument, put forward by the Bush administration, that school officials could censor speech that interfered with a school’s “educational mission.”The breadth of that argument had alarmed religious conservatives, on the ground that school officials would get a license to enforce political correctness. Justice Alito, who had expressed a similar concern as an appeals court judge, said that the “educational mission” argument “strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment” by allowing school officials to “suppress speech on political and social issues based on disagreement with the viewpoint expressed.”Writing for the four dissenters, Justice John Paul Stevens said that even limited to drugs, the majority opinion distorted the First Amendment by “inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs” in a way that someone might perceive as containing a “latent pro-drug message.”Justice Stevens said that “carving out pro-drug speech for uniquely harsh treatment finds no support in our case law and is inimical to the values protected by the First Amendment.” Noting that alcohol also posed a danger to teenagers, Justice Stevens wondered whether “the court would support punishing Frederick for flying a ‘Wine Sips 4 Jesus’ banner,” which he said might be seen as pro-religion as well as pro-alcohol.The dissenters, who also included Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer, agreed with the majority that the principal should not be held personally liable for monetary damages. The case was Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278.Complete Title: Vote Against Banner Shows Divide on Speech in SchoolsSource: New York Times (NY)Author: Linda GreenhousePublished: June 26, 2007Copyright: 2007 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: Articles:Court Restricts Student Expression Bong Hits Out of Bounds Court Upholds Student's Suspension
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #12 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 16:46:21 PT
Yes, he is. This might have been the best way for him, even though he did not win.Sometimes it isn't important to win, if you get good publicity.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #11 posted by RevRayGreen on June 26, 2007 at 15:53:14 PT
If yor're looking for Joe
he can be found here. In my mind dudes a legend. 
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #10 posted by josephlacerenza on June 26, 2007 at 15:49:32 PT:
Should we wipe his A** too?
The fact is he was trying to save his own butt. In my opinion, he thought if it was drug related he would be in the wrong. On the other hand, I do like the religious defense, but his attorney did not convince him this was the way to fight this type of censorship.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #9 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 15:00:29 PT
The way I see it if he won't defend his speech who is going to do it for him?
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #8 posted by josephlacerenza on June 26, 2007 at 12:34:04 PT:
It seems to me he did not think his action through to its ultimate conclusion. So, he had not a leg to stand on to defend himself, or the rest of us willing to back such a statement. Even a well defended comment does not always deserve such a protection as the 1st amendment. Even a neo-Nazi has the where with all to form a coherent, even if falsely justified, argument. The KID may have been an adult, but did not conceive how important his statement is.  
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #7 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 11:17:26 PT
Protected speech
Political and religious speech by students is still protected.He could have defended his sign. He could have said, it's my religious belief, and that would be that.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #6 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 11:16:34 PT
His free speech wasn't infringed if he didn't want to respect the authority of the principal. She had none whatsoever but what he gave her voluntarily by enrolling as an adult in a public school.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #5 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 11:14:47 PT
I think if you want to speak you have to defend your speech and not pretend it was meaningless if you want to be protected.Joseph Frederick either didn't know what the sign he was carrying meant or pretended not to, at any rate he claimed it did not mean anything to him.So how valuable is meaningless speech?I hate to agree with the court decision but under this circumstance I do.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 11:10:30 PT
Stephen Breyer
I think that "sovereign immunity" argument is entirely specious. We the people are sovereign.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by whig on June 26, 2007 at 10:55:45 PT
Bonghits for Jesus
The original song.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by museman on June 26, 2007 at 10:28:35 PT
Obfuscation at it's finest
"They said the decision should be understood as limited to speech advocating drug use,..."Ah, well that's just it isn't it? By 'establishing' one illegal and unconstitutional precedent by prohibition itself, it becomes quite easy to attach any old 'descriptive conditions' upon it's interpretation, and application to law. This is the government saying; "The People have a constitution which 'guarantees' certain 'inalienable rights' but we (the gov)reserve the exclusive right to determine when, how, and what they are, and who gets them. (and how much profit they can make from the spin.)"So advocating something that is against current dark-age political philosphy, like "The earth is not the center of the universe" is a crime for which there is NO DEFENSE. I believe the Inquisition had a problem with Galleleo on this subject. Substitute the truth about cannabis, and you begin to get the metaphor.Even though it has been ESTABLISHED through real and actual LIVING TESTIMONY, as well as volumes of documented research that cannabis is the wonder plant of the ages, from fuel to medicine, even though a substantial number of states have confirmed this through their own responsible politics, lawfully and legally, even though the truth is blazing, it is the lie, and the obfuscation that is being upheld by those to whom we have (obviously) errorneously entrusted with such power to decide our collective fate.Time to reinvest our interest in a truly representative government...somehow.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by josephlacerenza on June 26, 2007 at 09:44:25 PT:
If not the highest court then where?
Is it the case of only a pro-drug message that is going to be censored, or is it any dissenting opinion? The classroom is to be a forum to discuss topics in society that we may or may not agree with, and in turn hear the other side. Is this to say that an anti-drug message will be tolerated? If we are to open the door too wide, does this mean I must tolerate hate speech in the classroom? Putting drug reform and Hitler inspired hate speech together in the same context pisses me off, but this is what we must deal with in a free society. Where do we draw the line? We are in a time period when immigration is becoming a more pressing issue that young people are coping with in their daily life. So, are we to believe that “Bong Hits for Jesus” is a contemptible as “Go Back Where You Came From”? I hope the answer is clear!! 
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment