Morse v. Frederick Civil Lawsuit: Bong Hits for Jesus

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Over five years have passed since high school senior Joseph Frederick was suspended for 10 days by school principal Deborah Morse after refusing her request to take down a 14-foot banner he was displaying at a school-sanctioned event which read “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” Born as a seemingly trivial civil lawsuit in which Frederick sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights to free speech, the case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the long-awaited ruling of Morse v. Frederick has finally been released. In a 5-4 split decision, the court ruled in favor of Morse and upheld the school board’s original ruling that Morse was acting within her rights and did not violate Frederick’s First Amendment rights by taking away his banner and suspending him for 10 days. The controversial decision has led followers of the case to question the future of student speech rights. The story began at the Olympic Torch Relay as it passed through Juneau, Alaska on January 24, 2002. Joseph Frederick was late for school went directly to meet up with his friends at the parade, where they held the infamous banner high for all to see. After school principal Deborah Morse noticed the banner, she told Frederick to put it away, which she later explained in court was because she “was concerned it could be interpreted as advocating illegal drug activity to his schoolmates who were across the street from Frederick in plain view.” After he refused to comply, Ms. Morse confiscated his banner and punished Frederick with 10 days of suspension (later reduced to 8) for violating the school policy against illegal drug advocacy. After the school administration turned down his appeal, Frederick took the case to the District Court of Alaska and sued th... ... middle of paper ... events. The court also relied upon the ruling in Kuhlmeir in that the special circumstances of the case would decide whether or not the speech was protected. Because Frederick admitted the message he displayed was simply to gain the attention of TV reporters at the event (and thus his speech was not regarded as political speech), the Court alleged the phrase "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" could have reasonably been viewed as promoting illegal drug use. As such, the state had an "important" if not "compelling" interest in prohibiting/punishing student speech that reasonably could be viewed as promoting illegal drug use. The decision thus ensured that public schools may "take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use" without fear of violating a student's First Amendment rights.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that joseph frederick sued the school for violating his first amendment rights to free speech, and the supreme court ruled in favor of morse.
  • Narrates how the olympic torch relay began when frederick was late for school to meet up with his friends at the parade, where they held the infamous banner high for all to see. after frederick refused to comply, the school principal confiscated his banner and punished him with 10 days of suspension.
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