Monday, June 25, 2007

SCOTUS Ruling Limits Student Free Speech Rights


In 2002, high school student Joseph Frederick unfurled a 14-foot banner during the Winter Olympics Relay in Juneau, Alaska which read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The principal of his school (Deborah Morse) took exception to the reference to drugs on banner, ripped it down, and suspended Frederick from school for 10 days. Of course, the student sued the principal... and somehow this crazy case made it all the way to the Supreme Court!

Earlier today in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled (Morse vs. Frederick) that schools could that restrict student speech when the message seems to advocate illegal drug use. The majority decision (written by Chief Justice Roberts) goes to great length to specify that the court's opinion "goes no further" than speech interpreted as dealing with illegal drug use.

The article on Yahoo! news continues:
"The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic," Chief Justice John Roberts said. But the school principal who suspended him "thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one," Roberts said in the majority opinion.
Read the entire Yahoo! article here.

plez sez: hmmmmm... so our Supreme Court had NOTHING better to do than to take up their valuable time (they are about to recess until October within the next week) ruling on a crazy case like this!

i agree with the ruling, but isn't this common sense: a school cannot allow its students to display banners advocating drug use. maybe i'm missing something here, but there are limits to free speech: hate speech, yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater, promoting drugs and alcohol to minors, sexually explicit speech and images around minors, kiddie porn, etc.

since i'm not a lawyer, i have a few questions for my more learned readers:
  1. how in the HELL did a frivolous lawsuit like this make it to the Supreme Court?
  2. what in the HELL were the Justices who voted in favor of the high school student thinking?

8 comments:

Jordan Goforth said...

I'm mixed on this. I'm all for free speech, but student's safety also have to be protected. You can wear a t-shirt that says "Love Jesus" or a "Cross" necklace, although silly. But to wear an anti-gay t-shirt would be the equivolant of wearing a t-shirt that read, "Be White, Not Black". Schools have a responsibility since Brown v. Board of Education to ensure a safe a fair environment for learning. Wearing discriminatory t-shirts is not aimed at an educational debate where students can express their opinions equally, but is harassment. Governor Culver has signed anti-bullying legislation in Iowa and wearing an anti-gay t-shirt would be prohibited as harassment. I can wear a t-shirt that says, "God is Dead" but should not wear one that reads, "Christians are Idiots", even though they are. You can attack ideas, but not people in public school. That is the point of the anti-bullying legislation. I save my Christian bashing for the classroom where there can be a debate, which I will always win with logic, but it is pointless to attack with the ad hominem without creating an opportunity for real proof or persuasion.

LLR said...

I don’t think that I like this ruling. If I am correct, this was not a school sponsored event nor was this on school grounds. Because of these things, the school does not jurisdiction to limit free speech.

Now I may be missing some things. If the kids were let out for the event and then went back to school, I am OK with the ruling because they were still in the custody of the school. But if the kids were let out for school (for the rest of the day) and they did this off school grounds and off “school time” then I don’t like the ruling.

plez... said...

Jordan,
i agree that students should be able to attend a public school without fear of harassment, nor should they be targeted with pro-drug slogans. i'm usually pretty liberal, but i'm with Judge Clarence Thomas on this one!

LLR,
it was my understanding from the reading that the students had been let out of school to attend the rally (the Olympic Torch was passing through Juneau, AK), the banner was unfurled across the street from the school, but after the rally the students returned to school. so this happened during "school time" but not on school property.

...so it is OK for you to be in favor of the ruling (like me)! *smile* (WOW! isn't this like 2 for the last 2 posts with us being in agreement? SCARY!)

dc_speaks said...

hmmmmph. it took that long to rule on that case. If it was a college campus, say nothing, but since they are minors and advocating drug use, and they did it on school grounds, this should never have been a major issue.

ruling done, case closed.

i'm wwith you though plez, what were the other judges thinking. 5-4?

LLR said...

...so it is OK for you to be in favor of the ruling (like me)! *smile* (WOW! isn't this like 2 for the last 2 posts with us being in agreement? SCARY!)
We can’t keep this up…You’re going to have to post something about gun rights/control so we can be on opposite sides of the isle.

I’m OK with the ruling since it was on “school time.”

What I find so funny is that there was an article that says that the court is now a “conservative” court. Well if that was true, then it was a “liberal” court for a long time up until Alito and Roberts were confirmed.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

Hi, plez. Please accept my apologies. I have been exaggeratedly ungracious and unfriendly, particularly in the light of the way that you've reached out to me, and so I apologize.

Please have a look at "Do Women Have Hysterical Ovaries"? Do Blacks Have 'Race'?

plez... said...

Francis,
i take no slight in your behavior.

i come to the blogosphere to expand my mind and hone my intellect. it is a rare bird who will agree with everything that i say or write. debate is healthy and we've always disagreed with respect.

but if you offer it, i will graciously accept your apology! *smile*

as we used to say on the basketball court when i was growing up in new york: no blood, no foul!

Lola Gets said...

Hey, where did my comment go?

I said I didnt understand how one could make promotion of using a legal subtstance illegal, as I thought marijuana was legal in Alaska.
Hm.
L