In 2002, a high school senior named Joseph Frederick for displaying a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” during the Olympic torch’s passing through Juneau, Alaska. He displayed the banner across the street from the school, although the school gathering for the torch run was technically a school function. For this, Frederick was handed a 10-day suspension.
ACLU To The Rescue
This prompted Frederick, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, to file a lawsuit against the school principal for violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The initial court ruling went against him, but that decision was unanimously reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The decision, as written by Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, was based on the fact that the speech was non-disruptive and took place off-campus, and that the suspension was enacted because the school simply disagreed with the social message conveyed by Frederick’s banner.
Upon appeal, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case. With the Supreme Court having a slightly right-wing tilt, it was no surprise when Chief Justice John Roberts (writing for the majority) found that the case fell under the jurisprudence of “school speech”. He agreed with noted milk-drinking witch-hunter Ken Starr, who represented the school principal before the Supreme Court, that “to promote drugs is utterly inconsistent with the educational mission of the school.”
Without having proved intent to “promote drugs”, Starr’s argument should never have been given an ounce of merit, but this Supreme Court has long been known to uphold conservative values above the Constitution. More telling of where the law really falls is the fact that, when Frederick sued the school in Alaska for violating that state’s Constitution (with respect to free speech), the school settled out of court for $45,000.