Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Civics Lesson For Certain School Administrators

Attention School Administrators:

In case some of you still haven't figured it out, when your school's students are off-campus, they have the same First Amendment rights
as every other person:
An Alaska high school violated a student's free speech rights by suspending him after he unfurled a banner that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" across the street from the school, a federal court ruled Friday.

Joseph Frederick, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska, displayed the banner -- which refers to smoking marijuana -- in January 2002 to try to get on television as the Olympic torch relay was passing the school.

Principal Deborah Morse seized the banner and suspended the 18-year-old for 10 days, saying he had undermined the school's educational mission and antidrug stance.

Friday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a decision by a federal court in Alaska that backed Frederick's suspension and said his rights were not violated.

The appeals court said the banner was protected speech because it did not disrupt school activity and was displayed off school grounds during a noncurricular activity.

"Public schools are instrumentalities of government, and government is not entitled to suppress speech that undermines whatever missions it defines for itself," Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote in the court's opinion.

The court also cleared the way for Frederick to seek damages, saying Morse was aware of relevant case law and should have known her actions violated his rights.
A number of these cases have been in the news lately. One would think that certain school administrators would have gotten the message by now. The fact that they haven't is an embarrassment to all of those educators who do have some grasp of our (and our students') fundamental rights as well as basic common sense.

But then again maybe this isn't all that unexpected. It seems as though in many districts administrators are hired because of their political connections rather than their curricular, legal, or instructional expertise.

As for what Joseph Fredrick actually did, I detest both his message and his chosen method of delivery.

But I firmly believe that the First Amendment exists not to protect the speech that we love, but to protect the speech that we hate.

I think that in this instance, the court made a good call.
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