Bong hits 4 free speech

Posted March 23, 2007

In a hysterical exercise of freedom of speech rights, student Joseph Frederick held a sign reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” during the Juneau, Alaska, Olympic torch relay in 2002.

These “Bong Hits” enraged his school principal and resulted in his suspension. Now, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found nothing wrong with the banner, the case is being taken to the Supreme Court, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Because the slogan “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” doesn’t even make actual sense, it is obvious that its sole purpose was attention. This is a perfect example of freedom of speech rights and should be encouraged rather than censored.

Kenneth Starr, the former Clinton investigator who is representing the school principal, argued the banner disrupted the educational mission of the school.

This is ridiculous. Although it occurred during school hours, the incident didn’t even take place at the school but on a public sidewalk.

Is it fair for a school to try to silence a student’s freedom of speech if his opinion doesn’t conform to the broad mission of the school?

High school students should be given the same rights as everyone else; we shouldn’t be treating these teen-agers like kindergartners who barely understand the words that are coming out of their mouths.

High school is a place of education where students learn and develop new ideas about the world around them. This is a free country and students should be able to express themselves just like everyone else.

If a school is allowed to censor this one exercise of freedom of speech then it may also try to control other self-expressions.

Where should the line be drawn?

As it stands now, educators are allowed to limit a student’s First Amendment rights if they can be deemed vulgar or disruptive.

Lawyers for the school argue that the word “bong” constitutes drug use and therefore is disruptive and goes against the school’s drug-free message. But the message doesn’t encourage pot smoking.

It’s a students attempt at political expression and that should be encouraged.

The moment that “the man” comes in to say that we are not allowed to talk about how we feel is the moment that we lose our freedom.

It’s important for students to have opinions, it shows that they are paying attention and learning something, and a school should be encouraging this not squelching it. What is the purpose of education if not to encourage ideas and thoughts?

Obviously this banner showed how Frederick had learned about his First Amendment rights and that should be praised.

However, due to the extremely broad mission of the school, educators have the ability to interpret the idea of “good citizenship” in any way they please. This is part of what the Supreme Court took issue with on Monday.

Justice Samuel Alito stated that he found this very disturbing because it allowed schools to define their mission in such a broad way so as to suppress all types of political speech under the banner of getting rid of speech that’s inconsistent with educational missions.

This is exactly the problem. If a schools mission is vague, like with anything, it will lead to a multiplicity of interpretations that can result in a tight hold on the actions of their students which will suffocate its learning environment. If the school wants to eliminate vulgarity from its students’ vocabulary then it should state exactly what is and is not allowed.

We at Campus Times think “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is just fine. We might not exactly understand what it means, but we think that everyone should be allowed to state their opinions – whether coherent or not. Schools are the birthplace of ideas, so they should always support their growth no matter how much they don’t agree with them.

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