Sunday, March 18, 2007
Bong Hits 4 Jesus
Free-Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right
By LINDA GREENHOUSE N.Y.Times
Published: March 18, 2007
WASHINGTON, March 17 — A Supreme Court case about the free-speech rights of high school students, to be argued on Monday, has opened an unexpected fissure between the Bush administration and its usual allies on the religious right.
As a result, an appeal that asks the justices to decide whether school officials can squelch or punish student advocacy of illegal drugs has taken on an added dimension as a window on an active front in the culture wars, one that has escaped the notice of most people outside the fray. And as the stakes have grown higher, a case thatonce looked like an easy victory for the government side may prove to be a much closer call.
On the surface, Joseph Frederick’s dispute with his principal, Deborah Morse, at the Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska five years ago appeared to have little if anything to do with religion — or perhaps with much of anything beyond a bored senior’s attitude and a harried administrator’s impatience.
As the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Juneau on its way to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, students were allowed to leave the school grounds to watch. The school band and cheerleaders performed. With television cameras focused on the scene, Mr. Frederick and some friends unfurled a 14-foot-long banner with the inscription: “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”Mr. Frederick later testified that he designed the banner, using a slogan he had seen on a snowboard, “to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television.” Ms. Morse found no humor but plenty of meaning in the sign, recognizing “bong hits” as a slang reference to using marijuana. She demanded that he take the banner down. When he refused, she tore it down, ordered him to her office, and gave him a 10-day suspension.
Mr. Fredericks’s ensuing lawsuit and the free-speech court battle that resulted, in which he has prevailed so far, is one that, classically, pits official authority against student dissent.
Read the rest HERE