On January 24, 2002, in the course of the Olympic Torch Relay through Juneau, Alaska, Joseph Frederick, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, spread out a banner with the words Bong Hits 4 Jesus (Kincaid, 2008). Frederick was at the event as part of an activity that was under the supervision of the school. The event was under television coverage. Deborah Morse, the schools principal, asked Frederick to put away the banner. Morses concern was that the banner was possibly interpreted as an encouragement to participate in illegal drug activity. Frederick however refused to heed the instruction to put away the banner and subsequently Morse confiscated the banner. Initially, Frederick got a ten-day suspension from school for violation of school policy. The school policy Frederick was suspended for outlawed the encouragement of the use of prohibited drugs.
What followed was that Fredrick sued the principal for his suspension. Fredrick sued protesting against the suspension on the basis that it was a violation of his right to freedom of speech. When the matter was taken to the court, the United States District Court for the District of Alaska gave a ruling in favor of Morse (Kincaid, 2008). The basis of the ruling was that Frederick's action was not under the protection of the First Amendment. The District Court ruled against Fredrick on the basis that in this case, the principal had qualified for immunity. However, the decision was repealed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which reversed the ruling and maintained that the constitution protected Fredricks banner. The decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the previous ruling cited Tinker as precedent (Starr, 2008). In Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), the ruling of the court held that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate (Starr, 2008). Tinker maintained that the wearing of armbands by students to protest against the war in Vietnam was speech protected by the constitution because it was political speech. Political speech is fundamentally protected under the First Amendment and can only be regulated if it substantially disrupts the educational process (Starr, 2008). The precedent was granted in this case since the controversial speech did not in any way cause disturbance and was therefore safeguarded under the First Amendment. However, after further appeal at the United States Supreme Court, the highest court granted certiorari.
One of the major issues in the case was whether a principal is in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment by limiting speech at an event supervised by the school when the speech is reasonably regarded as endorsing illegal drug use.
In the case of Morse v. Fredrick, the majority recognized that the Constitution provides smaller protections to some types of student speech at school or school-supervised events. In this context, the Court found that the message Frederick displayed was by his own admission not political in nature as opposed to the case in Tinker (Roberts, 2008). From the Courts statement, the phrase Bong Hits 4 Jesus could sensibly be viewed as an endorsement of prohibited drug use. The Court therefore ruled that schools have the right to take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use (Roberts, 2008). The steps taken by the schools can be implemented with no fear of violating a student's First Amendment rights.
Impact of the Case on Education
In Morse v. Frederick, the Court was of the opinion that there are some evils so threatening to our society and so incompatible with education that they must be specifically excepted from the protections of the First Amendment (Epley , 2013). Based on this logic, it is evident that there will be no protection for intolerant, hurtful, hateful, prejudiced, or inhospitable speech. In this context, it can be argued that administrators have been given an avenue to justify punishment on utterances considered as advocating for illegal drug use, intolerant, hurtful, hateful, prejudiced, or inhospitable. Based on this ruling, the limits have been set on utterances by students that make them privy to disciplinary action by their schools.
From my perspective, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Morse v. Fredrick was justifiable. However, the precedent as set by Tinker was not justifiable. Allowing students and especially high school students to join in the political views of adults is making them susceptible to brainwashing by political forces. By considering the political views of high school children, the school is no longer a place of learning but a center of opinion struggle. Conflicts in opinion will stain the chief purpose of schools due to granting of similar political opinion rights to children and adults. Unlike the Morse v. Fredrick case, the Tinker case was not a case od advocating for an illegal activity. The Morse v. Fredrick case judgment by the Supreme Court is justifiable because it recognizes the danger of the message posed in advocating for illegal drug use.
Epley, B. G. (2013). Educators' Personal Liability for Violating Student Rights: The Risks When
Regulating Student Speech. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 49(3), 126-130.
Kincaid, J. (2008). State-federal relations: Dueling policies.Roberts, N. M. (2008). Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Have Students' First Amendment Rights to Free
Speech Been Changed After Morse v. Frederick?. Journal of Educational Controversy, 3(1), 22.Starr, K. W. (2008). Our Libertarian Court: Bong Hits and the Enduring Hamiltonian-
Jeffersonian Colloquy. Lewis & Clark Law Review, 12(1).
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