On Monday, March 19, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Morse v. Frederick, the case in which a student was suspended from school for unfurling a banner with the words "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" on an Olympic parade route. The route was across the street from his school; the incident occurred during the school day; and the student was standing with his fellow students at the time. He was not making either a political or a religious statement. Apparently, the phrase was borrowed from a bumper sticker and the student's goal was to get his picture in the newspaper. He obviously succeeded on the newspaper goal - for this case has gotten coverage nationwide -- but his First Amendment challenge seems to me to have less merit. (Readers should contrast Julie Hilden's two-part column on the case, written after it was decided by the Ninth Circuit, which reaches rather different conclusions.)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the student's speech was protected, and the principal was personally liable in the case, which was brought under a federal statute that allows awards of damages for violations of constitutional rights.
The problem with that decision, however, is that it exists in a land of little oxygen, far removed from the reality of high school, where if adults give students an inch to misbehave, they will take a mile, and where bids for attention like this one hardly need encouragement. One can only hope that the Supreme Court will offer a more realistic ruling, grounded in high-school realities.
Read the rest here.