Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus"

Decision of the Day summarizes the facts of this case:

This Ninth Circuit appeal revisits the complicated issue of free speech in a school setting. The administration of Juneau-Douglas High School thought it would be a nice idea to release the students from school one morning so that they could watch the Olympic torch pass by. Senior Joseph Frederick did not make it to school that day, but he did make it to a viewing point across the street from the school, where he unfurled a banner reading, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The principal was not thrilled with this display, so she confiscated the banner and suspended Frederick for ten days. Frederick filed suit alleging that his rights had been violated.

The case has nothing to do with Alabama, but the facts are very funny.

It also makes a serious and timely point: The essence of free speech is the right to say things other people find upsetting, offensive or disagreeable. The school thought it could suspend Mr. Frederick simply because his sign expressed disagreement with the school's anti-drug policy. The school was wrong and faces the prospect of money damages as a result.