Not only did a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court not find Joseph Frederick’s banner of “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” funny, now they’ve made it tougher for other public school students to exercise their First Amendment rights in a decision announced this morning.
Frederick argued that when he unfurled a banner in Juneau, Alaska in 2002 proclaiming “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” he was covered by his right to free speech and that the message was a nonsensical one. Just because he used the word “bong,” he said that didn’t mean he was advocating drug use.
And besides he wasn’t even on school property when he (then 18-years-old) unveiled the 14-foot banner while the Olympic torch went by, on its way to the Winter Olympics. Students were let out of class that day to watch the historic run by.
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His principal, Deborah Morse, was not amused, grabbed the banner and suspended Frederick. He sued and it ended up at the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that schools do have the right to ban student expression if it advocates drug use and that it doesn’t have to occur on school property to be stopped. Since it was a school-sanctioned event, the majority of justices ruled, the school has the right to intervene.
So that’s it: call it a school-sanctioned event and public schools can control what kids say anywhere.
Apparently there’s a Texas connection to this case. The Houston Chronicle reports that Frederick pleaded guilty in 2004 to a misdemeanor charge of selling marijuana at Stephen F. Austin University.