The transcript of oral arguments in Morse v. Frederick, argued at the Supreme Court a few days ago, makes for some interesting reading. (For a summary of the facts, see my earlier comments on the case here.)

Ken Starr (arguing that the principal had the right to suppress the speech) focuses the beginning of his argument, predictably, with the usual Drug Czar type language. His first sentence in fact:

Illegal drugs and the glorification of the drug culture are profoundly serious problems for our nation.

A student holds up a sign (off campus, mind you) that reads “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” and now the Supreme Court is being asked to jump to the conclusion that the message glorifies drug culture? What exactly does “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” mean anyway?

Does it mean the speaker believes Jesus supports marijuana use? Does that automatically mean it is pro drugs? Perhaps it’s a suggestion that Jesus should be allowed to use marijuana?

What is the anti-“Bong Hits 4 Jesus” message?

I told my wife that I thought the opposite of “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” would be “No Bong Hits 4 Jesus”, and therefore that would have to be protected speech, at least according to the Government’s argument.

Would “No Bong Hits 4 Jesus” be as obviously pro-Drug War as the government thinks “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is pro-Drug Culture?

My wife suggested that the opposite message might actually be “Bong Hits 4 Satan”. If the “4 Jesus” part of the sign is automatically an endorsement, then wouldn’t “4 Satan” send the appropriate “Just Say NO” message that the government expects us all to chant?

Any discussion about the actual meaning of this phrase would, I predict, devolve into equally subjective and silly analysis. And that’s exactly my point.

Actually, this case presents an excellent demonstration of the dangers of the government coming in after the fact and interpreting what a particular speaker means, when they argue the right to suppress the speech. Let’s not add the First Amendment to the growing list of Drug War victims.

  • Do you think the Court will ultimately decide this case based on the fact that the speaker was off campus in order to avoid the difficult first amendment issues, including interpreting the meaning of “Bong Hits for Jesus?”

  • Mark:

    Originally I did think that might be a fairly large issue in the case, but after reading the oral arguments, I think SCOTUS may go ahead and actually decide the 1st amendment issue that everyone here is curious about.

    Still, some sort of plurality, with some members of the court siding with the student on the “off campus” issue is very possible.

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