As I walked by the Supreme Court building today, in absolute awe of what takes place there, I asked an NBC film crew what ruling they were expecting. That’s when I learned that the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case out of Alaska, Morse v. Frederick, had been decided—in favor of the school.
I agree with this ruling. As I write this, I don’t know anything about the decision other than the outcome. I don’t know what arguments swayed the Court, or what the ruling said.
Some might ask how I can support Kieran King but not Joseph Frederick. The answer is simple: reasonable time place, and manner restrictions on exercising speech have always been allowed—the “can’t yell ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” standard. Kieran’s personal expression in school is acceptable, Joseph’s expression at a school function is not.
It’s not Joseph’s message to which I object. I’m not quite sure what “Bong hits 4 Jesus” means, if anything. It’s silly, even sophomoric, but he’s entitled to it. He’s not entitled to express it at a school function, any more than my students are entitled to express their personal beliefs in my class while I’m teaching. Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
Want to show a goofy, drug-referencing sign in public? Don’t do it at a school activity.
Update: Justice Thomas has a very interesting study of student expression in his 13-page concurring opinion found here starting on page 19 of 60. It's well-written and easy to understand. I agree with him up to a point, and truly enjoy his history of student 1st Amendment cases, but I find much to approve of in Tinker--a decision he claims outright is "without basis in the Constitution".