‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ not under free speech

Corey Aldritt

The Supreme Court ruling on the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner case raises many questions about the future of student free speech rights. This landmark case didn’t happen on a college campus, but rather at a high school.

“There’s almost no relevance to college students at a public university because they’re adults, not children. Rules for high school students are stricter,” said Barbara Mack, associate professor of journalism and communication.

Joseph Frederick was the high school student who displayed the 14-foot sign on a public sidewalk outside his high school in Juneau, Alaska, back in 2002.

The courts ruled Frederick’s free speech rights were not violated when he was suspended for displaying the banner.

“It’s limited to high school, I hope. But only time will tell, it’s certainly a setback,” said David Hudson, scholar of the First Amendment Center.

Frederick was standing on a public sidewalk when he flew the banner, but the school argued Frederick was part of a school-sanctioned event in which students were let out of class and accompanied by teachers.

“This case sets a disturbing precedent,” Mack said.

“There is no question that school officials can stop high school students from advocating illegal activities such as drinking and drug use – if the students are speaking during school hours or school activities.

“I agree with the dissenters that this was not a school-sponsored activity, and it’s difficult to see how such stupid, sophomoric sign advocates drug use.”

Whether the banner advocated illegal drug use was another issue. Frederick claimed “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” was just a funny line he saw on a snowboard. The courts ruled schools were allowed to ban messages that appear to promote illegal drug use.

They also ruled that although Frederick was on a public sidewalk, he was still attending a school event.

“It expands the definition of what is a school activity,” Mack said.

She said students will only have all of their rights when they’re far away from school grounds.

This ruling may have set back student free speech, but it didn’t surprise many.

Hudson said he wasn’t surprised by the decision, but he was pleasantly surprised that the vote was as close as it was.

Mack said she wasn’t surprised by the ruling, but had different feelings about the vote.

“What is even more disturbing is the 5-4 split on the Court is being seen in many decisions,” Mack said.

“It doesn’t give people much confidence in their judiciary.”