The supreme court ruled to limit students’ speech today, at least when it comes to pro-marijuana messages.
In 2002, Joseph Frederick unfurled a banner at a school-sanctioned event which read, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Young Frederick was summarily suspended, an action which provoked a long and difficult lawsuit from the disconsolate teen.
While Chief Justice John Roberts notes that, “The message on Frederick’s banner is cryptic,” it was nevertheless ruled that the banner can easily be interpreted as promoting illegal drug use, and that the principal of Frederick’s school was perfectly within her right to suspend him on those grounds. In their concurrence Alito and Kennedy said that the decision “goes no further than to hold that a public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use.”
I think it’s always a good idea to get up in arms in the defense of the Amendments, particularly the first one – but sometimes it’s a little funny to watch. The hottest outrage over this doesn’t seem to be coming from defenders of righteous civil liberties, but from self-righteous defenders of certain lifestyles.
Frederick was a mischievous teenager who claimed he didn’t understand what his message meant, that he was exercising his right to universal free speech; the principal was trying to enforce order in her school and uphold the nation’s laws. Sure, her kind is the inveterate enemy of every fun-loving, adventurous teenager, and she should be pranked by the kids who were punished. But if there’s any righteous indignation to fall, it ought to fall on the head of Joseph Frederick, for turning the issue into a five-year court battle, ruining his father’s career (and his own college career in the process), costing taxpayers millions of dollars and attempting to mock the Amendments of the Constitution by posing as a poor, innocent advocate of free speech who didn’t understand the implications of his rather funny slogan. If there’s one think Joseph Frederick certainly doesn’t understand, it’s shame.
Incidentally, the kid was arrested and convicted two years later for selling marijuana on the campus of a state university in Texas. Oh, Joseph.
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