Hot off the presses, Judge Roberts and his minions have ruled. The Supreme Court of these United States finally issued its opinion on matters concerning the free speech rights of students. The results aren't pretty...or are they?
I'll admit, the issues were somewhat complicated. But the one that sparked everyone's interest --"Do students have the right to peacefully advocate drug activity at school sponsored events?"-- was the one passionately debated by college students across the country.
Adding an extra twist to the controversy, the student in question, Joseph Frederick, unfurled his Bong Hits 4 Jesus banner off school property on his own time. I think we can all agree this case never would have seen the light of day if Frederick had exercised his free speech rights during a homecoming rally. The principal, Deborah Morse, confiscated Frederick's banner, and slapped him with what turned out to be a 10-day suspension. Frederick sued Morse and the School Board for violating his constitutionally protected right to say what he pleased. The 9th Circuit sided with Frederick, and the School Board appealed.
Alas, once again, students have drawn the short stick. Student status automatically limits one's right to free expression. Add that to the ever-expanding list of prohibitions chipping away at First Amendment protections, and you have the justification for this questionable result.
Likely, Frederick's proximity to a school sanctioned gathering influenced the Court's decision. The school had dismissed students that day to observe the Winter Olympics Torch Relay. Writing for the majority, Judge Roberts upheld the position of Principal Morse, essentially stating that a principal may restrict student speech at a school event when it is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
I haven't had a chance to review Judge Robert's opinion, but my guess is his decision rests on something more tangible and fundamental.
Free speech rights took a one-two punch because no reasonable person could have misinterpreted the intended message of Frederick's banner. If, as Frederick contended, the banner advocated something nonsensical, then student free speech rights might have remained status quo for another twenty years. Consider the following slogans:
"Jesus Loves A Good Party."
"Honk for Hookah."
Without raising the specter of illegal activity, these innocuous expressions could have conveyed a seemingly similar message to "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The in-crowd would have figured out what Frederick was trying to say and the clueless would have kept their eyes on the torch.
I don't know whether to applaud or denounce the actions of our highest court. On the one hand, I don't want my own children to advocate or engage in illegal drug activity. Children are too easily swayed by peer pressure. Our schools must do everything in their power to instill good moral values and basic common sense in the hearts and minds of our children. Doing drugs is not only unhealthy and a gateway to moral decay, but also can result in stiff jail time.
On the other hand, there is something very sad and chilling about the way our nation has continuously eroded the right to free expression. It's as if no matter where a student goes or what a student does, that student must be constantly on guard against Big Brother, or in this case, the school board and its administration. I don't know about you, but that creepy feeling of the KGB lurking in the shadows comes to mind, or in this day and age, the CIA and the FBI.
"Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing...Long time ago..."
Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson, 1956