‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Case to be Heard by Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on March 19 the First Amendment case of an Alaskan high school senior who displayed a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at a school-sanctioned event.

In 2002, Joseph Frederick, now 23, was suspended 10 days for holding the 14-foot sign as the Olympic torch passed him across the street from his school. His intention was to provoke the principal, Deborah Morse, and get the attention of television cameras.

The case has made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. Experts claim Morse v. Frederick could be the most significant test of student free speech since the Vietnam War.

But unlike the protestors in the 1969 ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines, Frederick was not making a political statement. Instead, he says he was exercising his right to free speech.

Since 1969, however, the court has narrowed its interpretation of Tinker v. Des Moines, allowing schools to censor speech so officials can maintain order and protect other students from harmful words. Additionally, since the Columbine attack of 1999 and 9/11, the legal climate has changed.

The Bush administration, anti-drug organizations and school boards support Morse and the Juneau school district, saying school officials should be able to impose reasonable limits on student speech, especially those that promote drug use. Morse and her school district also claim Frederick’s sign was religiously offensive.

Frederick has a varied array of backers as well, including religious freedom organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union (which is helping him) and gay rights groups.

The court will need to weigh several factors, including the fact that Frederick was on public, not school, property. He was also not in school before the event.

Additionally, the court will determine whether Morse will be required to compensate Frederick. Because of the legal fight, Frederick’s father was fired from his job at a company that insures the district. As a result, Frederick claims he had to drop out of college.

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