Monday, June 25, 2007

Students' First Amendment rights take a hit at Supreme Court

While quoting past cases such as Tinker v. DesMoines Independent School District (school could not ban anti-war armbands) and Veronia School District v. Acton (a Fourth Amendment case that went against the student but contains the language that "children assuredly do not 'shed their constitutional rights ... at the schoolhouse gate,'") the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a Juneau, Alaska, high school could punish a student for unfurling and refusing to put away a banner that said, "BONG HITS 4 JESUS" at the Olympic torch parade on the public street outside the school.

In Morse v. Frederick Justice Roberts wrote the court's decision (5 1/2 to 3 1/2) noting that it was not unreasonable for the principal to conclude that "BONG HITS 4 JESUS" could "materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school" in the same way that sexual metaphors in a graduation speech did in Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser.

Roberts wrote that Tinker allows for students' rights to not be absolute and this case is distinguishable because the Tinker court did not go through the "material and substantial disruption analysis" that was articulated in Bethel.

Presumably the answer to the question "Do high school students in public schools have the freedom under G. L. c. 71, § 82 to engage in non-school-sponsored expression that may reasonably be considered vulgar, but causes no disruption or disorder?" is still "affirmative" in Massachusetts and that a student in a similar situation would not be able to be punished without having caused an actual disruption in a Massachusetts high school. See the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Jeffrey J. Pyle v. School Committee of South Hadley, 423 Mass. 283, 667 N.E.2d 869 (1996).


MLR said...

There is an intertesting comment on MORSE v. FREDERICK in a 6/25-6/26 article in EDUCATION WEEK.

In the article entitled "Speech Ruling Backs Schools But Protects Student Political Expression" (at ) Mark Walsh highlights Justice Alito's concurring opinion to say that the court will continue to protect political expression. Walsh thinks it was the pro-drug aspect of the banner that allowed the court to rule for the school district.

Justice Alito wrote: I join the opinion of the court on the understanding that (a) it goes no further than to 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,” such as speech on the wisdom of the “war on drugs” or on legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.

BGR said...

Free speech still has some life for students. The Presidential Scholars who signed the letter decrying torture at their photo op with Pres. Bush and the Wellesely High graduate who presented it will not be punished.

Oye's mother was also a Presidential Scholar in 1968 and regrets that she did not take the opportunity to tell Pres. Johnson about her opposition to the war.

Oye's grandfather was in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII and is also mentioned as an influence in her activism.

See the heartwarming article from today's Boston Globe about Mari Oye ( and read more about the roots of her inability to let this opportunity to make a difference just slip away

MLR said...

Two of the Presidential Scholars who wrote and presented the "don't torture" letter to President Bush tell the story to Amy Goodman on "America Now" in the video at this link:

MLR said...

Commentary In Education Week 8/29/07 (and on 8/28/07)

"‘Bong Hits’ for Student Speech:
The high court gives schools a Pyrrhic victory—and little practical guidance."

By Alex Kreit

Two months have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Morse v. Frederick (also known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case), the first major case involving students’ free-speech rights since 1988. ("Ruling in ‘Bong Hits’ Case Seen as Leaving Protection For Students’ Free Speech," July 18, 2007.)[]

Go to for the rest of the article.

MLR said...

Bloggers' First Amendment rights take a hit in Madison, WI.

A teacher who posted under a pseudonym on a conservative blog (most likely lampooning anti-teacher posts) that the Columbine killers knew how to take care of overpaid teachers "one shot at a time" was arrested after a teacher complained and the blog administrator gave authorities his IP address.

According to the article (at a police captain in Madison defended the arrest saying "the teacher who complained was disturbed by the reference to "one shot at a time" and other educators agreed it was a threat."

"'What happens when you say 'bomb' in an airport? That's free speech, isn't it?' he said. 'And people are taken into custody for that all the time.'"

Incredibly, the County Attorney "is considering whether to charge [the teacher] with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communication systems."

MLR said...

Here's a link to the blog where the arrested teacher's comment appeared (along with the actual comment, the blogger's report about the incident and other comments about the arrest):

MLR said...

Another student First Amendment issue:

Student's parodied a teacher on Schools suspends student for 10 days then expels him for another 80. The School Board upholds the punishment despite the action having taken place at home, on the student's own computer and not during school hours.

The following article is from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Facebook prank turns bad;
Taylor honor students file suit after expulsion"

MLR said...

And today, Atty. Julia Durchanek alerted me via Facebook that an Ohio Middle School Principal has taken Morse v. Frederick as possibly giving approval to photoshop the word "Feminist" off of the T-shirt that a student wore for her yearbook picture.

See this article from Reverb News in what may become Sophie Thomas v. Batavia Ohio School Department -