Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme Court: "No bong hits for you, Jesus"

When Alaskan highschooler Joseph Frederick decided to garner a bit of notoreity with a banner declaring "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a school event, he was almost surely daring the principal to do something about it. Do something she did, and after a long and winding road, the Supreme Court has agreed with her, citing the inappropriate use of pro-drug language.

Is it a drug-related case? Chief Justice Roberts and the majority insisted that it was, but Justice Stevens allows the students a little more credit than this:

"Admittedly, some high school students (including those who use drugs) are dumb. Most students, however, do not shed their brains at the schoolhouse gate, and most students know dumb advocacy when they see it. The notion that the message on this banner would actually persuade either the average student or even the dumbest one to change his or her behavior is most implausible." (Morse v. Frederick (No. 06-278) Stevens, J., dissenting, slip op. at 12).

Stevens (like the ACLU, Center for Individual Rights, National Coalition Against Censorship, American Center for Law and Justice, and the Rutherford Institute) thinks this is a free speech issue, not a drug issue. The fact that many conservative Christian groups agree, fearing precedent for censorship of religious messages, would seem to support this. He points out that no reasonable high school student would interpret this nonsensical banner as a serious call to toke up. It is the mere presence of the word "bong," in point of fact, which underlies the entire crux of the school's case. It's alarming when any word is considered so dangerous that it's not acceptable to use it even in a humorous context. Frederick may have been poking fun at the school, but it's disheartening that the Supreme Court didn't get the joke.

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