Back in 2002, as the Winter Olympics Torch passed by on the street in front of Juneau-Douglas High School, in Juneau, Alaska, 18 year old Joseph Frederick held up a sign that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” in an attempt to get his picture on TV.
Deborah Morris, then principal of Juneau-Douglas High School, subsequently suspended Frederick from school for 10 days for violating the district’s ‘anti-drug policies’. Frederick appealed ths decision and filed a lawsuit against the principal and school board for violating his 1st Amendment free speech rights. This case has now found it’s way to the United States Supreme Court.
The interesting thing about this case is it’s absurdity. On the surface, this appears to simply be the principal and school board using a policy designed to curb drug use in students as a punishment for a student that embarrased the school and the district. The sign hardly encouraged drug use any more than it encouraged religious practices. The incident occurred on a public sidewalk, across the street from the school (which the courts decided made it a ‘school function’), where the school’s principal should have no jurisdiction. If the Supreme Court finds for Fredering, the principal and the school board will have probably the effectiveness of anti-drug programs across the country and opened the door for many new civil rights cases – all for punishing a student who wasn’t actually advocating drug use.