Court tightens limits on student speech
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 36
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court tightened limits on
student speech Monday, ruling against a high school
student and his 14-foot-long "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"
Schools may prohibit student expression that can be
interpreted as advocating drug use, Chief Justice John
Roberts wrote for the court in a 5-4 ruling.
Joseph Frederick unfurled his homemade sign on a
winter morning in 2002, as the Olympic torch made its
way through Juneau, Alaska, en route to the Winter
Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Frederick said the banner was a nonsensical message
that he first saw on a snowboard. He intended the
banner to proclaim his right to say anything at all.
His principal, Deborah Morse, said the phrase was a
pro-drug message that had no place at a
school-sanctioned event. Frederick denied that he was
advocating for drug use.
"The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic,"
Roberts said. "But Principal Morse thought the banner
would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting
illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a
Morse suspended the student, prompting a federal civil
Students in public schools don't have the same rights
as adults, but neither do they leave their
constitutional protections at the schoolhouse gate, as
the court said in a landmark speech-rights ruling from
The court has limited what students can do in
subsequent cases, saying they may not be disruptive or
lewd or interfere with a school's basic educational
Frederick, now 23, said he later had to drop out of
college after his father lost his job. The elder
Frederick, who worked for the company that insures the
Juneau schools, was fired in connection with his son's
legal fight, the son said. A jury recently awarded
Frank Frederick $200,000 in a lawsuit he filed over
Joseph Frederick, who has been teaching and studying
in China, pleaded guilty in 2004 to a misdemeanor
charge of selling marijuana at Stephen F. Austin State
University in Nacogdoches, Texas, according to court
Conservative groups that often are allied with the
administration are backing Frederick out of concern
that a ruling for Morse would let schools clamp down
on religious expression, including speech that might
oppose homosexuality or abortion.
The case is Morse v. Frederick, 06-278.
(This version CORRECTS SUBS last graf, bgng, Joseph
Frederick, ... ADDS 3 grafs detail on Joseph
Frederick, context; corrects spelling of Nacogdoches
in graf bgng, Joseph Frederick ... etc.)