Rights at Stake in Free-Speech Case
Student-banner fight may shape law on discipline, administrator's liability.
Despite the less-than-weighty incident at its core—the display of a homemade banner emblazoned with “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”—a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up next week carries potentially far-reaching consequences for student speech, and for the legal protections of public school educators.
From a sea of controversies over student speech—on T-shirts, in classroom assignments, on Web pages, and in other forms that have conveyed political, religious, or arguably violent or offensive messages—the justices have chosen to review the case of an Alaska high school student who was disciplined for exhibiting the banner. It was a fleeting statement that its creator describes as lacking in any particular meaning other than to provoke.
“The phrase ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’—to me, it’s absurdly funny,” said Joseph Frederick, who was a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School in January 2002 when he and other students unfurled the banner at an Olympic-torch relay outside the school. “What the banner says is, ‘I have the right to free speech, and...
This article is available to subscribers only.
To keep reading this article and more, subscribe now or start a 2-week FREE trial.