Ken Starr on Dope

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What sounds like an upcoming Supreme Court decision on drug laws is actually a mounting battle over students' free speech rights… with some highly entertaining details.

Student Joseph Frederick says [a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"] was designed to be meaningless and funny in an effort to get on television as the Winter Olympic torch relay passed by the school in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2002.

But school officials say the phrase "bong hits" refers to smoking marijuana. Principal Deborah Morse suspended Frederick for 10 days because she said the banner advocates or promotes illegal drug use in violation of school policy.

Taking the side of the school—erstwhile Clinton inquisitor Ken Starr. And he's warring to overturn a judgment in the student's favor from the hated 9th Circuit. A wonderful culture war battle in the making.

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  1. This is bad, bad juju. I see no reason why the SCOTUS would side with the 9th on this. The courts have previously ruled that it is in the interest of the schools to advance the government’s postitions and this clearly goes against that grain. This will be one more nail in the coffin of free speech on school grounds (even though this occured off school grounds and at a semi-school sponsored function).

  2. This is one of those causes where Libertarians shoot themselves in the foot. I think marijuana ought to be legal, but I have no interest in whether this dumb little bastard gets to wear his t-shirt. This is not about drugs. It is about the ability of schools to set some standards of dress. Yeah, he has a 1st Amendment right to wear a “bong hits for Jesus” shirt. But he also has a 1st Amendment right to wear a “kill all the darkies” shirt. It is true that a “kill all the darkies” or a “I was born once I don’t want to be born again” shirt is more overtly offensive to some people than a “bong hits for Jesus” or a “spike a tree for Jesus” shirt, but the principle is still the same; does a school have a right to enforce some standard of dress on its students? I think the answer is yes. Regardless, the dispute has nothing to do with the drug laws. Libertarians do themselves no good by couching this kid’s problems in terms of the fight against drug laws. It just makes people who object to the drug war look like unserious, dope smoking hippies rather than people with principled objections.

  3. Have you people failed to realize that NYC banned trans fats this afternoon? Do I have to do everything around here?

  4. “But school officials say the phrase “bong hits” refers to smoking marijuana”

    You mean the reporter couldn’t get anyone else to independently confirm what “bong hits” were and had to rely only on the School Officials?

  5. “It is about the ability of schools to set some standards of dress.”

    Off-campus?

    Are we going to now have police looking into off-campus dress, political activities, etc.?

    Anyway, it was a BANNER not a t-shirt.

  6. does a school have a right to enforce some standard of dress on its students?

    Even when the students are off campus at a non-school sponsored event?

  7. I will note the obvious: law is a fact sensitive discipline.

  8. Zeno,

    I stand corrected. I made the common mistake of overestimating the intelligence of school administrators. It is unclear from the post, where the kid was. I couldn’t believe in a million years these dumb bastards would try to censor his speach off campus, but alas I was wrong. Again, this case is not about the drug laws, it is about the stupidity of school administrators. This is rediculous and Ken Starr needs his head examined.

  9. John,

    No big deal.

  10. Dear John,

    Yup, you’re still a douchebag.

    Love,
    Tim

  11. if the kid was off-campus, during nonschool hours, it’s none of the schools bidness

  12. Tim,

    Yup, your still a moron,

    Don’ Love and shove it up your ass sideways,

    John.

  13. “…a three-judge panel [unanimously] held that even high school students have a right to express themselves….”

    Good gravy- what an outrage!

  14. Okay, for those not familiar with the particulars…
    During school hours the Olympic torch was due to pass through Juneau, Alaska in front of the high school. The school administration allowed students to “skip” class to watch the runner pass by. One smart assed kid, standing on the opposite side of the street (not school property) unfurled a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. The school administrator grabbed the banner, crumpled it up and then proceeded to suspend the student for his actions. The question is whether or not the school can limit speech and apply punishment to actions that occur off of school grounds. This was not a school sponsored event, though the administrators agreed to “look the other way” if students left class to watch the torch runner pass by.

  15. This guy just loves fighting losing battles.

  16. (Starr I mean)

  17. Whew — at least it wasn’t the religious or anti-religious types who were complaining! Of course I don’t see how a banner across the street from the school could be interpreted as school-sponsored anwyay, but I was afraid the “4 Jesus” part would be the sore point, not the “bong hits” part.

  18. The interesting part of the incident is that he was not simply reprimanded at school. The principal went and took down the banner forcefully right there at the site of the relay. Ummm… discipline, any one?

  19. As a side note this statement tends to complicate things:
    The principal and the Juneau School Board appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantee still allows public schools to bar students from displaying messages promoting use of illegal substances.

    Per Ravin v. Alaska (upheld in Noy v. Alaska), in the state of Alaska, marijuana use in the home is legal. To claim that this resident of the state was promoting an “illegal” substance is false, whether it was marijuana or tobacco in the bong. Now, promoting an “illegal action” may be a legitimate complaint based on the age of the student but I think that is stretching it.

  20. This is one of those causes where Libertarians shoot themselves in the foot. I think marijuana ought to be legal, but I have no interest in whether this dumb little bastard gets to wear his t-shirt. This is not about drugs. It is about the ability of schools to set some standards of dress. Yeah, he has a 1st Amendment right to wear a “bong hits for Jesus” shirt. But he also has a 1st Amendment right to wear a “kill all the darkies” shirt. It is true that a “kill all the darkies” or a “I was born once I don’t want to be born again” shirt is more overtly offensive to some people than a “bong hits for Jesus” or a “spike a tree for Jesus” shirt, but the principle is still the same; does a school have a right to enforce some standard of dress on its students? I think the answer is yes. Regardless, the dispute has nothing to do with the drug laws. Libertarians do themselves no good by couching this kid’s problems in terms of the fight against drug laws. It just makes people who object to the drug war look like unserious, dope smoking hippies rather than people with principled objections.

    In Roseanne Rosanna-Danna voice:

    oh, uhm…nevermind.

    This might be a record for most facts wrong in one comment.

    With people like John on the pro-legalization side, who needs enemies?

    Assuming that your description was even remotely accurate(which you admit it wasn’t)…why would a student trying to wear a pro-drugs T-shirt make them look like “dirty pot-smoking hippies”? Because it made reference to drugs? If so, how do you square your belief that drugs should be legalized with your belief that people shouldn’t be wearing clothing that espouses that belief?

    Or is it because it made reference to Jesus? What if it said “Bong Hits for Peace” ?? Would that be less offensive?? Your lovely “kill all the darkies scenarios” seems to be agitating for violence against another group of people, so I don’t really see how that can be correctly compared with “Bong Hits for Jesus”??

    And last I checked, this post was originally dicussing 1st Amendment rights not focusing on legalization/drug laws.

  21. The principal and the Juneau School Board appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantee still allows public schools to bar students from displaying messages promoting use of illegal substances.

    Yes, but only within school property or at school events, yes? I can’t imagine that that this ability would extend to a student hanging out in his/her neighborhood??

  22. ChicagoTom,

    Don’t be too hard on the guy. He admitted his error.

  23. If they hadn’t gone overboard and suspended the kid, we wouldn’t have heard about this at all. The administrator ought to be suspended for lack of old-fashioned common sense.

  24. the administrator went crazy. Maybe he had a bad history with the kid that exploded there. Why they’re pursuing this to the Supreme Court is beyond me. Maybe they’re hoping for some Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Souter/Kennedy authoritarian sympathy.

  25. I wonder how much this is costing the school district to litigate?

  26. MassHole,

    Well, there is the issue of liability. And of course any ruling could set a precedent for actions which are similar to this fact pattern.

  27. Don’t be too hard on the guy. He admitted his error.

    His admission of error about the facts didn’t negate his feelings/rhetoric on the subject. It merely meant that his beliefs just didn’t apply to this specific situation.

  28. I wonder how much this is costing the school district to litigate?

    I’m even more curious to see how much schools in general spend fighting these types of fights. I think I read it on Reason somewhere, but the schools have a pretty bad track record of getting a lot of their positions upheld and in fact spend lots of time and resources re-fighting fights that other schools have lost.

  29. ChicagoTom,

    Off topic: ever been to Hull House?

  30. Zeno,

    Do you mean Jane Addam’s Hull House over at my alma-mater UIC ? If so, yes I have been there, but not since freshman year in college. well that and a short stop there on one of those “Haunted Sites” bus tours around halloween about 5 years ago.

    If you meant some other Hull House….no.

  31. Yeah, I mean that Hull House. Can you give me your “general impressions” of the place (if you are so inclined)?

  32. the school administrator grabbed the banner

    The kid should have drawn the administrator into hitting him, and subsequently kicked the administrator’s arse.

  33. The granting of certiorari in this case is ominous. This is not a dress code case; the suspect message was displayed on a banner. Streets and sidewalks are traditional public fora. The two newest members of the Court are appointed by the administration which has relegated protestors to “free speech zones” blocks distant from where the President appears.

    For advocates of free expression, a chill wind blows.

  34. Zeno,

    Like I said, I haven’t been there in a while, but its currently a museum dedicated to the Hull House and all the good things it did. Sadly for me, when I visitied (in college) I wasn’t much interested in history and so at the time it underwhelmed me (but that was my problem, not its). In retrospect though, I amdit i find it all much more interesting.

    It has a rich history of providing social services / assistance to the working class people and assisted many of the immigrants who lived in the ward where it was located. They also held Foreign evenings where local people presented songs, dances, games and food associated with their home country. It provided kindergarten for the children of many working class mothers, taught trades to young boys and girls and provided free lectures to the public by academics and social reformers on an array of topics.

    Rumor has it that the place is also haunted with some people swearing they have seens spirits / ghosts and other eiree occurances attributed to supernatural phenomena.

    It is held in very high regard around Chicago especially by educators and activists and is a pretty common tourist destination of Chicago visitors. Definately worth a stop, especially if you like history.

  35. ChicagoTom,

    Thanks.

    John in Nashville,

    That’s a good observation.

    When I was reading this originally I started to think about what possible free speech exception this could all under (if the Supremes were to go against the kid). I couldn’t think of a single one where the facts fit one of those exceptions (at least with the facts I have at hand).

  36. I’m going to guess that the superintendent is thinking “since we let the kids out of school to watch the runner, the school rules still apply.” I’m not saying I agree at all; I’m just speculating as to the superintendent’s thoughts.

  37. She got pissed because she thought it would make the school look bad, and she overreacted. She should face a stiff reprimand, if not lose her job. The school’s got no case, although I won’t hold my breath. :/

  38. Liberals taught me that smoking is bad for you. These students are merely cranking up insurance costs for the rest of us. They should be suspended.

  39. A Couple of thoughts from an actual teacher.

    First, Schools have to deal with a lot of negative press. The sole reason the kid made the banner was an attempt to get on TV. Which leads me to believe the kid is an ass. (Being an ass myself, I won’t hold this against him.)

    Second, I understand though, I don’t condone the actions of the Principal. The Principal probably felt like she was being taken advantage of, she lets the kid out of class to watch the Olympic torch and the students repay her by making her look bad. Thus, while I think she over-reacted I do believe that she had the right to do all of the following. 1) order the student back to class, 2) once the student stepped foot on the campus she had a right to take the banner. 3) Any defiance exhibited by the student should have resulted in disciplinary action. I think a few hours cleaning up trash in the quad was more appropriate and would certainly prevented a lawsuit.

    Third, Lowdog, in short pull your head out. Lose her job because she dared discipline a student? Get real. The student may have had the right to unfural the banner but it is not like she tackled the student or had attack dogs maul him.

    Fourth, the “Kill the Darkies” is a non-sequitur, kill the darkies would never be protected speech because “fighting words” have never been protected. For example, would you allow gang members to openly wear their “colors” at school? I know that I don’t believe gang attire is protected speech on a school campus.

    Fifth, It is costing the school district NOTHING, to bring this case, Ken Starr and his cronies are representing the district pro-bono.

    Finally, I believe the advocacy for marijuana is highly protected political speech, and that the boys right was violated. That being said, I think the Supreme Court may rule in favor of the District. The Court has been consistently backtracking on student free speech ever since the pro free speech Tinker ruling.

    Regards

    Joe

  40. The importance of this case is that Ken Starr is looking for the Supremes to establish a drug war exception to the First Amendment. In most of the stuff I’ve read about this I’m seeing a preview of Starr’s approach that is essentially:

    The school has, as part of its mission, the dissemination of an anti-drug message. Any speech by its students that undermines that message should be prohibited, regardless of whether it constitutes an actual disruption of educational activities (disrupting the education message is sufficient) or regardless of such technicalities as to whether the message was actually on school property.

    He’s not taking the case pro bono in order to save the school district some bucks on a lawsuit, in my opinion. He wants to set some new ground. It disturbs me that the Supreme Court took the case, although interestingly, an earlier decision by pre-Supreme Alito may come into play, where he ruled that, if the message was not sexually offensive or appeared to be a message authorized by the school, Tinker is all that applies (that it must actually be disruptive).

  41. Lose her job? Did I say that? I was being onery. 🙂

    I agree that she had the right to tell the student to take down the banner and come back to school property – the principal is acting in place of a parent, to a certain extent – where she could then confiscate the banner. She really just made herself look like way more of an ass and get her school some dubious notariety. 😉

  42. The Reuters article says the kid is 18. Had he reached his majority by the time of the incident? If so, how can in loco parentis apply. He’s an adult.

    BTW, how do you snatch a banner out of someone’s hand without committing robbery, theft and/or assault?

    Kevin

  43. “The school has, as part of its mission, the dissemination of an anti-drug message.”

    I strongly doubt that its mission includes dissemination of messages to anybody but its own students.

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