Thursday, July 05, 2007

Take a hit on this, bro! Then pass it on!

Joseph Frederick's banner, BONG HITS FOR JESUS, is not protected speech at a public school event. Wow, what a surprise.

Actually, when you read the Supreme Court opinion, you find quite a few surprises, some pleasant and others scary. For those not in the know, young Joseph unfurled a banner that said BONG HITS FOR JESUS during the running of the Olympic torch in Juneau, Alaska. The event was a school sponsored event, and the principal demanded that he take it down. He refused, and was suspended for ten days. Frederick sued on the bases that the banner was protected under the First Amendment, and demanded damages from the principal.

Amazingly, the court went 5-4 against the student, upholding the schools right to decide what is and is not acceptable. The court stated that schools have the right to restrict Free Speech when it comes to promoting illegal drugs because it is counter to the duty of teacher trying to keep the overall group safe, and to promote them an education. I'm still trying to figure out the reason to go in dissent on this opinion. In fact, I'm dumbfounded at the dissent period. Reasons used:

1. It erodes the First Amendment.

Except that it clearly does not. Two cases were mentioned a lot. Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeir, which clearly states that schools can suppress speech at school related activities, and Tinker vs. Des Moines, which is the political speech protection for students. First of all, it is a school event, and the court even stated that this speech is protected if it isn't at a school event. Second, the question is whether or not this is free speech. I think that it is clear that this isn't a logical discussion of legalization, it is a blatant message (no matter how dumb) to promote drug use. No political speech here. Students do not have the same protected speech as adults outside the school.

2. The banner was a stupid prank with no message.

Tell that to the principal that needs to make a split second decision that could impact students, her job, parent support, the community, and if television cameras are present, the reputation of the people of Juneau. Was it stupid? Of course. Was it trying to promote something outright? Regardless of the borderline nature, don't we side with the principal? You think we should side with an 18 year old pot head who is a Senior in high school?

3. We shouldn't be so hard on drugs anyway. The drug war is questionable.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is Constitutional law at it's best!

Darren over at Right/Left (check the Roll) made a reference to Clarence Thomas' opinion to this case. Now, don't start spouting off that I'm partisan until you read the quote. Hell, I just read Thomas' opinion today regarding the Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld case, and I'm pretty sure someone needs to take Clarence down to Gitmo and show him a good waterboarding. It was terrible. But when it comes to education, Justice Thomas has the right idea.
Here, he discusses the idea of in loco parentis.

“One of the most sacred duties of parents, is to train up and qualify their children, for becoming useful and virtuous members of society; this duty cannot be effectually performed without the ability to command obedience, to control stubbornness, to quicken diligence,
and to reform bad habits . . . . The teacher is the substitute of the parent; . . . and in the exercise of these delegated duties, is invested with his power.”

I think that this idea is fairly ingrained into the heritage of this country, and society accepts it. Why else would parents willingly allow their kids to attend public schools for 13 years under the instruction of the government? Then came Tinker vs. Des Moines, the case that protected the political expression of students on campus, as long as it did not instigate violence. I agree with the fundamentals of Tinker, but I also agree that the courts have created a mess with the idea of "free speech" for students. His argument is that in a free society, parents have other options (homeschooling, private schools, charters, moving) to educate their children, but in the end should be using the local political process, not the 1st Amendment.

In the name of the First Amendment, Tinker has undermined the traditional authority of teachers to maintain order in public schools. “Once a society that generally respected the authority of teachers, deferred to their judgment, and trusted them to act in the best interest of school children, we now accept defiance,disrespect, and disorder as daily occurrences in many of our public schools.”

Don't think so? Ask a teacher.

What does this mean for the classroom?

I'm putting this quote on my syllabus for dress code:

Because schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use, the school officials in this case did not violate the First Amendment- Morse vs. Frederick

Might sound stupid, but in a down that has a culture of weed (and plenty of clothes that promote the ganja), having legal precedent can make my consequences more legitimate. In the end, students will know that the classroom is a haven for learning, not expressing your desire to get high. So sure, bring on the legalization arguments, bring on the opinions on the War on Drugs, bring on the medical marijuana debate, that's what my classes are for!

But know the difference between informed, academic discussion, and juvenile attempts at attracting attention.
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