Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Bong Hits 4 Jesus

By Shawn Healy
The Supreme Court granted cert today to the second First Amendment-related case of the current term. The controversy occurred in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2002 as the olympic torch made its way through the community. Students were allowed to skip class to attend the parade, and one student, Joseph Frederick, took advantage of this opportunity, standing on the sidewalk across the street from school and unfurling a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The school principal, Deborah Morse, proceeded to request that the banner be taken down, and upon refusal, the student was ultimately suspended for 10 days.

He filed suit, seeking the removal of this incident from his records and financial compensation. He lost at the district level, but won in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kenneth Starr (of Clinton and Lewinskygate fame) decided to represent the school district free of charge and sought Supreme Court review of the verdict. His wish was granted, and the Court will consider this case in late February, with a decision expected by the end of June.

The issue here is twofold. One, did the student's "pro-drug" message represent a substantial disruption to the school environment to justify punishment for political speech? Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) created this exception, and it was later applied in both Bethel v. Fraser (1986) and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1987).

The second issue is one of jurisdiction. Does a school adminstrator have the right to punish students for speech and expressive behavior that occurs off-campus? Social networking sites and blogs have brought this issue to the fore recently, and although this case assumes a more classic example of expressive speech, the precedent that emerges from the Juneau case could implicate a plethora of digital age issues.

We'll be tracking this issue laboriously over the coming months, so visit this blog, our timely news feed on our museum web site, and a special exhibit scheduled to open in February highlighting student work in line with the five freedoms of the First Amendment.


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Blogger pedro velasquez said...

It all started back in 2002 when high school bet basketball students in Alaska unfurled a non-commercial banner which read sarcastically and defiantly: "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS." Although the banner was not displayed on school property, it was exhibited at a school function. The students stated that it was not original copy, that they had seen it on a snowboard sticker. School officials sportsbook punished the students. The reason given by the school was 'promotion of drugs.' Yet, the question lingers as to how far a school can go in censoring non-conforming speech. Does such an oblique mention of marijuana culture invite the school to censure all speech containing it? According to the US Supreme Court, march madness yes, the students could be censored. We think this court decision was a disgrace.
In the balance between condemning an unsavory counter-culture statement which also lampoons religion, and affirming unfettered free speech --which should prevail? Clearly free speech should prevail. Yet, the US Supreme Court got it wrong and sided with the school. It's a famous legal case, also known as Morse V. Frederick, and it is found in all law libraries.

12:04 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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