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Students' Free Speech


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school officials may regulate students' speech "that they reasonably regard as promoting illegal drug use." The decision—decided on a 6-3 vote—upheld the suspension of an Alaska high school student who displayed a banner with the message "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a school-sanctioned event.

Jeffrey Frederick says he created his homemade banner because he thought it was "absurdly funny." But the majority of the justices weren't laughing. They said the sign's content was not protected by the First Amendment.

How much power should school officials have to control a student's speech? What do you make of the Court's decision?


I can see that this is a tough decision. This student did not harm anyone, as these were just words. The reference to drugs could have been discussed with the student, but should not have been punished the way it was. Schools are drug free zones and the student had no drug paraphanelia he was selling or using, so there is no breach of this law. Even though bongs are widely used for marijuana they can also be used for tobacco products and therefore, technically, are not drug paraphenalia until marijuana has been put into it. BONG is not a bad word! This situation could have been handled differently by the administration.

Mr. Griffin your comment was well-intentioned but misguided. The fact that tobacco is as illegal to high school students as marijuana makes it just as inappropriate for the student to have reference to tobacco on the banner. As school officials we have the right to take reasonable action with any free speech that causes or may cause a serious disruption to the learning environment; that includes a school sponsored event outside the regular classroom since normal school rules also govern those events.

The entire situation could have been handled much better by merely suspending the student for skipping school. The student was illegally off campus at the time of the incident, doing something silly and inappropriate. To raise the question of Freedom of Speach magnifies a stupid rebellious act, wuth no real purpose, to the level of some kind of political protest. This particular case should have been disposed of at the lowest levels of the courts, if it had to go to court at all. It is a total waste of my tax dollars and even my time.

Given the facts, the actions of this student was not within the jusrisdiction of the school. If it was done in the school then of course the school has a case. This stupid prank was designed to get attention, not to promulgate free speech. Even so, it is a free speech issue and needs to be addressed in court. As embarrassed as I would be as a teacher or principal, I don't know if what I could have otherwise done. Can the City of Juneau curtail such any more than the school? Obviously the Supreme Court thinks so.


In response to J.H.

Define reasonable action against an amendment for which we were granted freedom of speech.

The 1st Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make NO law, however your institution is allowed to take "reasonable" action against those who exercise this amendment? Please explain the justification. The school is a government affiliation, not a private company or organization. The 1st Amendment was not made just for you sir. Nor was it just for those of high status or rank. It was made for every American.

Now on to Mr. Griffith's statements: I agree. There was no intent for harm or distribution. Therefore no illegal acts, by illegal I mean ACTUAL illegal acts, were presented, premeditated, or committed. In this instance there should be no punishment for what he said but what he did. Take the poster away; explain to him the repercussions of interfering with education and promotion of illegal drugs, then have a drug seminar, talk to the students about that poster and all drugs, like schools do already. And without stepping on his rights, enforce the schools rules for whatever he may have actually done.

And if you do not raise the issue of freedom of speech then you’re ignorant, if you take away rights then more and more rights will be taken and you might as well abolish the 1st amendment.

The constitution states that all men are created equal; however all women and all African-Americans were not allowed many of the benefits as white people until people stood up and drew the line. The constitution is only up for interpretation until it is defined by a law or act of someone being punished for exercising those rights. By not standing up for what you believe then you are allowing those of positions unaffected by the right or above the law to interpret those rights for you. Considering they are not affected, which I highly doubt J.H. is affected, they do not care for the legalities and how they go against the true rights given to the people from our founding fathers; which allows for manipulation of EVERYONE’S rights.


When you say beginning your last paragraph that "The Constitution states that all men are created equaL", what part of it are you referring to? I know the Declaration of Independence says that "all men are created equal ..." and is the spirit of the law upon which the Constitution is written. However, which part (or amendment) are you referring too?


Mike Huhndorf

It is apparent that you all have not read the case. The student arrived at school (late because of getting stuck in the snow) joined the in progress activity and then re-entered the school after the event. He was brought to the principal's office and asked the names of the others involved. He refused to tell. He was suspended for this behavior. He babbled statements about Thomas Jefferson and he and his parents brought suit. The parents should have been grounded their child for being so rude and trying to be disrespectful to our great country by playing this prank as the Olympic torch came by. The lower courts handled this fine, then the ACLU got involved so you know there is going to be a bunch of mess. This was a brat acting naughty, this was not about free speech. Let's not get to carried away protecting stupidity, or when it is time to defend the speech the law was designed to protect (like talk radio) everyone is tired of the fight.


First of all, let me congratulate Beth for articulating the facts and common sense in the issue.

In addition, there is another aspect that many may be forgetting. This is a school and the purpose of any school is education. That may seem obvious, but apparently not the case when people spew political rights over students who are still learning about the world, socialization, and most importantly, character education.

If we don't teach our children here about right and wrong, we do them a huge disservice by illy preparating for the real world. Research has shown that students usually don't have all resources they need for morality decisions until their early 20's. It is a schools job to teach them right from all. After all, no where in any educational system does one receive a diploma that says, "Congratulations, you have graduated moral development."

Lastly, laws have routinely been made to protect the right of the community over the individual. His right to swing his fist stops where my face begins, or in this case, his words end where I am offended. The founding fathers developed the first ammended for freedom of tryanny and opression of political and religious speech. Unless this young many firmly has designs on changing or establishing a new religion, his words had no objective other than to be not funny, offensive and the subject of a good learning experience.

I am intrigued by this case and appreciate the contributions of the last two posters. The facts of the case seem to be in dispute and as a results relate directly to the jursisdiction of the school in resolving the case. I posted Kilpatrick's column believeing he knew but from Beth's post he does not

Firt to the issue of "Freedom of Speech". People should realize that it is really a misnomer. There is no such thing. There is protected speech and unprotected speech. The Constitutional parameters of the distinction are constantly shifting, dpending upon the makeup of the court. An earlier court, like the Warren court would have unquestionably ruled in the student's favor. But was it ever really a speech issue? It was a high school boy doing somthing over the edge. Many senior pranks are worse than that sign. It was political opportunists who made it an issue, not the boy.

What should have been done? Smack the boy lovingly in the back of the head, put your arm around him and say, "Put that thing down and get back to class where you belong." HIS biggest offense was cutting class.

I appreciate your comments. I want to state again that the boy did not cut class. The student body was released from class to participate in the support of the Olympic torch as it passed by their high school. We must not lose sight of what was happening. This boy was not making a political statement, or any other kind of statement. He was trying to be funny, or cool, or somehow seeking some kind of attention because he does not get enough love from home. When these events happen, the courts (if forced to be involved) should impose mandated counseling for the family and parenting classes for the adults. We have missed the boat by allowing everyone with a thought the right to hold our court system hostage by listening to pointless suits. Lawyers who take on these cases should be disbarred and then we could save our courts for the cases that have merit. There were so many places this situation went from bad to worse. The shame of all of this is the lack of mention of the students who were there, cheering and supporting the runner with the torch and being part of the history being made. Most of us go about our daily lives doing what is right, it is a shame that we "lead with what bleeds" on the news instead of sharing what great things our citizens are doing to make our nation the greatest on earth.

The biggest problem in the schools (the most time consumed, loss of teaching time, paperwork) is


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