Variety reports (and Jesse Walker notes below) that Paramount Pictures and MTV Films plan to make a movie based on the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, in which a Juneau, Alaska, high school student unsuccessfully defended his right to hoist a banner bearing that phrase at an off-campus but school-sanctioned Olympic torch rally. By his own account, the student, Joseph Frederick, held up the banner as a goof, in the hope of getting on TV and, not incidentally, pissing off his school's principal, Deborah Morse, with whom he'd had several run-ins. He succeeded admirably in that second goal, goading Morse into yanking the banner away and crumpling it up. Although a federal appeals court said this heavy-handed censorship violated Frederick's First Amendment rights, the Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the principal's concern about maintaining the school's anti-drug message justified her actions.

While the majority opinion in Morse v. Frederick seemed to be carving out a drug exception to the First Amendment (at least insofar as it applies to students under school supervision), two justices who joined the majority, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, signed a concurring opinion saying the decision should not be seen as carte blanche for schools to squelch criticism of current drug policies. Kennedy and Alito's distinction between "speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue"  and "speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use" may be difficult to maintain in practice, because these two categories overlap. Notably, however, their opinion relied on the assumption that Frederick was not trying to communicate anything of worth, which is also what he claimed. At least Larry Flynt was engaging in bona fide political satire when he was sued by Jerry Falwell. Presumably the movie will chronicle Frederick's growing awareness of the First Amendment's importance, as what started as a silly stunt became a brave stand for freedom of expression. Or something like that. If I were writing the script, I think I'd make him a neo-Nazi.

My columns on the case are here and here.