Five years ago, Joseph Frederick, then a Juneau, Alaska high school student, pulled a prank that got him in trouble with his school. The Olympic torch was passing through Juneau and, as chance would have it, it was to pass right past Joseph’s high school. The school administration allowed the students to stand across the street from the high school to view the torch as it passed. Just as the torch was passing where Joseph Franklin stood and just as the TV cameras were focused on that area, he unfurled a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus;” he explained later that he had created that meaningless epithet to get attention, perhaps to get on television. Well he certainly got his wish for attention.
The principal of the school, who was supervising the students on this “field trip” in front of the school to watch the parade, saw Joseph’s banner and, since the school, like virtually all schools, had a policy that forbid students to use illegal drugs or even advocate their use, she told him to take he banner down; he refused so she grabbed it and destroyed it. She also gave Joseph a 10-day suspension from school.
Enter the ACLU!
Franklin appealed his suspension to the school board and lost and then at some point after that it is apparent that some ACLU lawyer convinced Joseph (and presumably his family) that his free speech rights had been violated and that he should sue the school district. Whatever amount of money gained from the adventure was, no doubt, to act as a balm for his wounds.
After a now 5-year long string of decisions stemming from that law suit, decisions that pit the schools right to control “speech” that they feel is illegal and disruptive to the educational system against a student’s supposed right to “say” whatever he or she pleases wherever he or she happens to be, here is where it stands according to an article in the Houston Chronicle:
A federal appeals court called Frederick’s message “vague and nonsensical” in ruling that his civil rights had been violated. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said Morse (the principal) would have to compensate Frederick for her actions because she should have known they violated the Constitution.
The U.S. government has sided with the schools position and the government’s appeal of that ruling is being heard today in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In my opinion, a school student’s “rights” consist of getting an education and following the rules that apply equally to all students in the school — they do not have the right to turn a classroom or any school sponsored event into a theatre featuring their disrespect for the school or for the rules. Schools, of course, have no right to abuse or in any way damage a student and in this case they did not — they simply applied a common-sense rule to a situation and applied a fair punishment to the infringement of a rule. It’s called maintaining discipline by setting examples. Aside from maintaining discipline it also teaches the students a very valuable lesson: no matter where they go in life after school they will have rules and standards of behavior that will guide their actions and speech, and then as now, ignoring those rules will result in some form of punishment, censure or retribution.
Today’s major media event at the U.S. Supreme Court is nothing more than a frivolous law suit that has taken on a life of its own. In the last five years this nonsense has probably cost the Juneau school district (and consequently the taxpayers in Juneau) hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs and lawyers fees and, since the U.S. government has taken the school district’s side, that cost is now being spread to taxpayers across the country. Why? Because in the beginning, a lawyer convinced a kid (and that kid’s family) that they could make some money by suing the school district. The free speech issue was, at least in the early stages, just a cover-up for a money-making scheme — now it is a National event with mega-media coverage and every “pundit” in the U.S. is taking a crack at the “free speech” issue when the reality is this case had nothing to do with free speech. As I see it, this is simply a matter of a school principal exerting her authority over one of her students and, when he refused to do what she told him to do he was punished. This doesn’t belong in the Supreme court or in any court.
This, I guess, is the price we pay for living in a free country, there will always be some huckster around trying to make money or get famous by abusing common sense; and there will always be those lacking common sense jumping to their aid and defense.
Houston Chronicle: Justices hear arguments in ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ case
ABC News: Students Await Free Speech Ruling
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