Tuesday, March 20, 2007



Bong Hits 4 Jesus!

I must admit that this title cracks me up. And I do love a good First Amendment case as much as the next girl. But I really scratched my head when I read about the case the U.S. Supreme Court heard yesterday.

I don't know if you've been following it, but a high school student in Alaska put up a 14-ft banner proclaiming "Bong hits 4 Jesus" across the street from his school. His principal suspensed him on the basis that his banner promoted drug use and disrupted the school environment.

I'm very free speech-protective (something I have in common with my least favorite Justice, Antonin Scalia, actually...it makes me feel dirty when I side with him on a case) and although I've never used drugs, I'm certainly no fan of the "war on drugs" (although I believe that the state has a right to regulate/make it illegal for minors), but I'm honestly surprised this case actually made it to the Supreme Court. There's a long history of precendent in support of limiting student's right to free speech in a school environment, and to be honest, I tend to agree.

Anyway, the court could rule for the student if it determines that he was (as is his contention) conducting a free-speech experiment using a nonsensical messages that contained no pitch for drug use.

Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be saying that he sided with the principal: "I thought we wanted our schools to teach something, inclduing something besides just basic elements, including the character formation and not to use drugs."

But Justic David Souter may be siding with the student: "It sounds just like a kid's provocative statement to me."

Kenneth Starr represented the principal in the oral argument yesterday. He argued that school officials are perfectly within their rights to curtail student speech that advocates drug use. He was joined by the Bush administration for asking the court to adopt a broad rule that could essentially give public schools the right to clamp down on any speech with which they disagree. But this argument didn't appear to have widespread support among the justices.

While I certainly wouldn't go anywhere near that far, the precedents are clear that students don't enjoy true free speech in school, and I agree that they should not. Students enjoy a limited free speech, but schools are within their rights to limit this freedom.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the justices hold.

What are your thoughts? Is this a free speech issue? Should students be able to put up such a banner? Was the principal right?

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Posted by Amanda Brice :: 8:23 AM :: 22 comments

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