What Does "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Mean? (Morse v. Frederick)

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.

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mark - March 25, 2007 4:58 PM

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?"

Jamie - March 25, 2007 6:56 PM

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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In your 07/27/2008 post, you list one of the search terms that leads to your site:Back of ice cream truck You reliepd as follows: (I hesitate to venture a guess)Being from Conn. and in my youth having associated with some of the criminal element there, and having some knowledge of the New Haven area, I can shed some light into the meaning of this search term.The ice cream truck is prisoner slang for the old Sheriffs' prisoner transport vehicle. The incident in the back of the ice cream truck was one of the reasons why the Sheriff system in Conn. was abolished.On August 18, 1999, New Haven Sheriff deputies shackled Sandra Caruso in the metal-box-type rear of the transport vehicle, after her remand to custody for not making bond in Derby Superior Court on a driving while suspended violation.All that separated her from thirteen men was a metal partition that was kicked in by one of the men, who raped Ms. Caruso. Four others sexually assaulted her (too graphic to describe here).Deputies say they heard and saw nothing.See Reinforcement for an Effort To Abolish Sheriff System , New York Times, p. B5, Paul Zielbauer, March 11, 2000.

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