Dispatches from the Creation Wars

SCOTUS to Hear Student Speech Case

Remember the case in Alaska with the high school student who hung a banner saying “Bong Hits For Jesus” at a parade and got suspended? The Supreme Court has granted cert and will hear the case. Ken Starr will argue on behalf of the school. The appeals court ruled in favor of the student. Someone at some point, I forget who, had suggested that this case be combined with the Poway case of a student wearing an anti-gay t-shirt, but there’s no indication that was done. The circumstances are quite different. I expect the Court to uphold the appeals court ruling in this case.


  1. #1 kehrsam
    December 2, 2006

    The case turns upon the issue of whether the student was participating in a school-sponsored event at the time he unfurled the banner. It is pretty clear that schools have control of speech related to drugs or violence either on school property or events.

    In this case, high school was dismissed early so that the students could watch the Olympic torch relay come through town. The student — accompanied by teachers and staff — was on the public sidewalk when he let go his banner. A teacher told him to roll it up, he refused, and the lawsuit was on.

    I come down with the Cout of Appeals because I don’t think this was a school event: The kids were dismissed, there was (apparently) no advance planning, no parental notification. But I can easily see the argument that Starr is going to make.

  2. #2 Chris Hyland
    December 2, 2006

    Was the event nothing to do with the school or were the students just allowed out to watch the parade. I’m just wondering whether they are going to argue that the student was representing the school in some way if it was on school time.

  3. #3 Chris Hyland
    December 2, 2006

    “I come down with the Cout of Appeals because I don’t think this was a school event”

    Ah you already answered my question. If they were dismissed early and not under the supervision of the school then they can’t make the argument. I suspect they will though.

  4. #4 kehrsam
    December 2, 2006

    Chris: I think it a very close call. Yes, school was dismissed and they were (barely) off school property, but they essentially travelled as a group with the teachers present. There are a whole lot of small points which the Supremes might hang a hat on if they decide to define the term “school event.” I’d love to hear the orals on this.

  5. #5 Sastra
    December 2, 2006

    If the student had somehow injured himself, are there circumstances under which the school’s insurance would pay?

  6. #6 kehrsam
    December 2, 2006

    Volokh on Harper v Poway case pending before Court. He thinks the Supremes will deal with this one first, then remand Poway back to the 9th Circuit.

    Sastra: I’ll give the traditional lawyer answer: Maybe. Depends upon if there were any facts suggesting negligence on the part of the school.

  7. #7 Sastra
    December 2, 2006

    I don’t know details. When the school was dismissed, could the student have just gone home — or to the mall, or a friend’s house, or wherever he wanted? If the answer’s no, he had to be at the parade, then I think it’s a school event, official or not.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    December 2, 2006

    No, it was not a required event. No roll was taken. They weren’t required to be there, they were just released so they could go. Had attendance been mandatory, that would have been quite different.

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