I’m deeply saddened by the results of the most recent Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of students. The so-called “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case was decided in favor of the school.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court ruled against a former high school student Monday in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner case — a split decision that limits students’ free speech rights.
Joseph Frederick was 18 when he unveiled the 14-foot paper sign on a public sidewalk outside his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002.
Principal Deborah Morse confiscated it and suspended Frederick. He sued, taking his case all the way to the nation’s highest court.
The justices ruled 6-3 that Frederick’s free speech rights were not violated by his suspension over what the majority’s written opinion called a “sophomoric” banner. (Watch the banner unfurl and launch a legal battle Video)
“It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use– and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority.
You hear that? Free speech is OK until it promotes something the government doesn’t like. For instance, drug use. When the hell did we become so obsessed over illegal drug use, even pot (for Jesus), as advocated in this sign that students can’t legally speak about it? Off school grounds no less? This is a bizarre case. Even though student free speech tends to be limited relative to political speech outside the school, the fact that he had the banner across the street from the school, to me at least, should have protected him from any disciplinary action.
I think Stevens summarizes just how I feel though in his dissent:
Roberts was supported by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito. Breyer noted separately he would give Morse qualified immunity from the lawsuit, but did not sign onto the majority’s broader free speech limits on students.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs, so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message.”
He was backed by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This leads me to another point, and a topic I think we’ll discuss in the future here at denialism blog. And that is the anti-drug science that comes out of funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIDA. While not truly junk science per se, it tends to always be misinterpreted and twisted to present a uniformly anti-drug message. I consider this the political abuse of science by the government, and hope to write about it when it comes up in the future.