Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Today's Ruling Does Not Affect Political Speech

Today's Supreme Court ruling in the notorious 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case (aka Morse v. Frederick) was a disappointment. Still, without naming names, I think some of my colleagues in the blogosphere have missed an important point in their haste to condemn the Court.

It is vitally important that students and school administrators get the right message about what this ruling does and does not say about drug related speech in school. Morse v. Frederick states that the 1st Amendment does not protect speech advocating illegal drug use. Nonetheless, a majority of Supreme Court Justices clearly agree that political speech criticizing the war on drugs should be protected.

As Pete Guither highlights, Alito's concurrence addresses the burning question of what this ruling means for students who wish to speak out about drug policy itself:

I join the opinion of the Court on the understanding that (a) it goes no further than hold that a public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use and (b) it provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.'

The Court's majority conclusion that Frederick's 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner constituted unprotected pro-drug speech during school was dependent on Alito and Kennedy's concurrence. In short, a majority of the Court's justices expressly reject the notion that political speech advocating drug policy reform could be restricted in the same fashion.

It is exactly this question which compelled Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance to file Amicus briefs with the Court, and it is clear that reformers got the straightforward answer we were looking for.

Along these lines, it's also notable that Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion responds to Alito by noting that the banner was not political speech. Thus, even the Court's majority acknowledges that today's ruling in no way constitutes a restriction on speech that merely criticizes the drug war.

None of this is to say that Morse v. Frederick is a good ruling. Indeed, the Court has rarely looked sillier than it does today. It is the height of arrogance to decide arbitrarily what 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' even means in the first place, and then base a 1st Amendment ruling that affects everyone on something so subjective and nonsensical. Morse overflows with hyperbole about the dangers of drugs to America's youth, as if a 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner could somehow exacerbate such problems. Yeah, it's a remarkably stupid ruling in that regard.

But to ignore the Court's deliberate defense of political speech is to disregard the primary concern that drew the attention of drug policy reformers to this case in the first place. Certainly there are ambiguities, and today's ruling is far from an endorsement of widespread drug policy debate on high school campuses. How students and administrators ultimately interpret the ruling will vary and more litigation will likely be needed. But it is precisely for this reason that defenders of free speech must be measured in our criticism. Nothing could be more harmful than allowing this case to be understood as restricting speech that it does not in fact restrict.

So, while gray areas abound, the logical interpretation of Morse v. Frederick is that political speech advocating drug policy reform (though not drug use itself) is protected under the 1st Amendment.

Go get 'em, students. If you need some better banner ideas, contact Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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Blog Hits 4 Jesus song

Well, it looks like opponents of the ruling now have a protest song on their hands. The question is, will it be a "hit"?:

Bong Hits 4 Jesus
(the song)
Dr BLT (c) 2007
Smash Records
http://www.drblt.net/music/bongHITS2.mp3

Much better than I thought

It's good that this ruling specifically allows for political speech against the war on drugs, because prohibiting that would clearly be unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional

Not only was this ruling very unconstitutional, but the entire war on drugs is unconstitutional. This unconstitutional ruling does not only violate the first 1st Amendment but it also violates freedom of religion.

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