Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Interesting Free Speech Case

The Worldnutdaily is reporting that Ken Starr, famous for his prosecution of Clinton in the 90s, has petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of a school in Alaska in the case of Frederick v Morse. The case involves a student who, on a day when students were released from school to watch the olympic torch go by, held up a banner that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” on it. The school principal suspended him for 10 days and he filed suit against them. The district court ruled for the school but the 9th district court overturned that decision and ruled in favor of the student. Starr is now apparently representing the school and wants the Supreme Court to hear the case.

This was a relatively close case. The crux of the decision, I think, is whether this was an official school function or not. The school says it was, but the student showed a school memo about it saying it was just a school release and so they did not need parent permission, as they would need for a field trip. Further, the other students testified that there was no requirement that they be there, that many people skipped it or left and no one told them not to, and that they weren’t required to stay together or under a teacher’s supervision as they would on a field trip. Thus, the court concluded that this was not a school function and therefore the school had no authority. On balance, I would agree. I’ll be curious to see if the Court grants cert in the case.

And let’s please not turn the comments into a Starr-bashing fest over Monica Lewinsky. That is totally irrelevant to the subject of this post.


  1. #1 Felix
    August 30, 2006

    Doesn’t sound like it deserves to go to the Supreme Court to me.
    (BTW, is that SCOTUS or the state SC?)

  2. #2 Dave S.
    August 30, 2006

    The WingNutDaily piece says it’s the federal court.

  3. #3 Will
    August 30, 2006

    “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” makes my inner teenager laugh.

  4. #4 J-Dog
    August 30, 2006

    Would he still have gotten in trouble if the sign read “Jesus Hits 4 Bongs”?

    Enquiring Minds Want To Know!

  5. #5 CPT_Doom
    August 30, 2006

    Although this was not part of the case, but isn’t there also a free speech issue in assuming “bong” = “illegal druge use”? Bongs can be used to smoke almost any substance, including tobacco, so it seems to me that the school policy is also overly broad on content of messages.

  6. #6 dogmeatIB
    August 30, 2006

    I would say that this wasn’t a school function, without a permission slip or some format for teachers to be responsible for the students (and have some way to know which students are theirs, etc.), then it’s a case of an administrator busting a kid on the street for something they did. If the activity was illegal, he could point it out to a law enforcement officer, but the suspension is likely beyond his authority.

  7. #7 Carpus
    August 30, 2006

    I disagree that the crux of this decision was whether or not this was an official school function. It seems to me that the court is saying that as long as the speech is not ‘offensive’ (and they argue that it does not meet that definition, which in some ways they seem to equate with ‘vulgar’), and as long as the speech is not school-sponsored (like a school newspaper), and as long as the speech does not disrupt normal school activities, then the school can’t prohibit it. It sounds to me like if this guy was wearing this slogan (which, by the way, I love!) on his shirt in a school class but was not disruptive in any way, then the school would have to suck it up.

  8. #8 Carpus
    August 30, 2006

    PS – good posts today, Ed. And good discussions!

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    August 30, 2006

    Well, even if it was a school function, the court may well not have sided with the school. They were still applying Tinker and there was no evidence of any disruption.

  10. #10 dogmeatIB
    August 30, 2006

    Except Ed, most schools have dress codes that ban wearing clothing that advocates drug and alcohol use.

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