Tomorrow the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in what will inevitably be known to future generations of law students as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case (technically entitled Morse v. Frederick).
While watching the Olympic torch being carried in Juneau in 2002, 18 year old Joseph Frederick held up a large sign which said “BONG HITS 4 JESUS”. His high school principal (Deborah Morse) saw him with sign, crossed the street and demanded that he take it down. When he refused she crumpled it up, and eventually suspended him for 10 days.
Unfortunately, there is no small chance that the case may end up being decided on grounds such as “it wasn’t a school sponsored event”, or “even if semi-school sponsored, then off campus speech is entitled to more protection than on campus speech”– which are admittedly valid issues in the case.
Lawyers for the student also argue in their briefs that it was just a meaningless phrase, not one that can necessarily be defined as anti-drug war. This is possibly the most valid point – after all, do you have any idea what the sign means? Me neither. (The student himself claimed it was nothing more than teenage hijinks, or possibly a statement about free speech, but not drug use.)
But here’s hoping that SCOTUS decides the case on its much more interesting merits…that is, whether or not a student has a right to speak out against our ridiculous national drug control policy. Really, at least to me, it’s an issue of free thought more than free speech – and isn’t that what schools should be fostering?
Through this blog, I’ve been contacted from time to time by students writing papers assigned to them by teachers about the pros and cons of “legalizing marijuana”. Will “thinking in school” be the next victim of the War on Drugs?