Sunday, March 18, 2007

Olympic Torch and the First Amendment

Today in class we are going to try something different!

We will :
  • 1. pass out the laptop computers; (notice I used a semi-colon)
  • 2. then we will log onto;
  • 3. Then we will read the NY Times Article linked here together;
  • 4. We will of course share our thoughts in a disscussion;
  • 5. Then on our own we will read another linked article and post a comment.

Education Week

Choose one of the above linked articles, compare it to the NY Times Article we read together, and briefly explain both sides of the issue and share your own opinion.

Below is from an Anchorage Alaska Newspaper :

On March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Morse v. Frederick, a free-speech case from Juneau that pitted an 18-year-old high school student against school officials. A decision is expected before the end of June.

The incident
On Jan. 24, 2002, Joe Frederick, 18, unfurled a banner near Juneau-Douglas High School proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." School principal Deborah Morse took the banner, which officials said promoted marijuana use, and suspended him. He appealed, then took his case to federal court, saying his constitutional rights had been violated.

The case
Judge backed the school district in 2003. Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and found that Frederick had a right to display his banner, "however vague and nonsensical." The school district appealed.

The issues
1. Can school officials punish student speech of this kind when it occurs off-campus during a semi-official school event? Officials say it undermined their anti-drug mission. Frederick's lawyers said it was not "disruptive" or "plainly offensive," two key tests set by the Supreme Court in the past.
2. Can the principal be held liable personally -- with monetary damages -- for violating the student's rights?

The lawyers
For Frederick: Juneau lawyer Douglas Mertz, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union.
For the Juneau school district: Kenneth Starr, the former independent prosecutor whose Monica Lewinsky investigation led to the impeachment trial of President Clinton.


Sam! said...

Although I think what Frederick did was pretty dumb, he does have a right to free speech. He wasn't on school grounds and he wasn't disruptive. I read the ABC article and "The ACLU claims Frederick was acting independently of the school, and at least one of his cohorts was a nonstudent." He was doing it to "push the boundaries of free speech" I guess.

It seems, although, that Frederick had alternative motives in hanging the banner. This was not the first time that he had been in trouble for other acts of protest. According to the ABC article, "All agree that Frederick was a rabble-rouser. The school had previously called police when he refused to leave a common area. The next day, he was disciplined after he remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance." He had been pushing the envelope with his school and this might have been the last straw, you know?

I think the involvement of Beth Tinker is really interesting. Her protest was during the Vietnam war, she wore a black armband to protest it. The between Tinker and Frederick is that Tinker was fighting for a cause, and Frederick seemed to do this for the shock value.

Although I think that Frederick didn't have a purpose and that his actions were not appropriate, he has every right to free speech AND he shouldn't have been suspended because he didn't do it in school!! The school cannot encroach upon his freedom of speech when he's at a public venue other than school. There shouldn't be a question here.

I thought it was funny that someone in the Times article said " Frederick's protest was ''just a joke'' but that ''the school took it too far.'' because it seems that scho

Peter said...

I think that school officials can only punish students if the act they conducted was on school grounds and has no connection to the school. Students shouldn’t be punished by school officials if the acts they conducted don’t pertain to school. I agree with Pete Guither when he said “Complications include the fact that the speech took place off school property at a non-school event, and did not directly cause a disturbance to the educational process.” If what Joseph Frederick did had affected the way other students were learning then he could have been punished. I think that the principal Deborah Morse was out of line and the punishment given to Fredrick wasn’t reasonable with the act he conducted. What Fredrick did didn’t hurt anyone and no one was really offended. Fredrick wasn’t even punished for a day the principal had suspended him for five days. I think the principal should be held liable personally for violating the student’s right because she was the one that suspended him.

Stephanie said...

The New York Times article as well as the ABC News Article both really confused me al lot! I feel that the student who created this poster stated "bong hits for Jesus" was absolutely uncalled for. He states that it had nothing to do with drugs. If it had nothing to do with drugs and he doesn't use drugs. Than why would he use the word BONG???? But than again he (Frederick) could have just wanted to be put on national TV and the attention of those around him; and he got just that. Although he was suspended for 14 days I feel that was a little over-exaggerate. I feel he learned from his mistakes and now that he is a teacher he knows what is capable of him. I also feel since this incident occurred 5 years ago there should be no reason that this situation is NOW being brought up in court.

Josh said...

"If schools can determine what is orthodox when it comes to what students believe," he said, "that really is a problem."
This is a quote that I extracted from the article on the page. I absolutely agree with this quote. When a student’s rights as a citizen are taken away just because they are in a school environment, it is unfair. As long as what the student has to say is not threatening to another individual, it should be fine. I also feel that the student made the banner "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" only as a joke just because they thought that they would not get in trouble. I find it to be beneficial to many students that many issues brought up in the news lately revolve around things that occur in a educational environment. Just like the article we discussed recently regarding the girls who tried to do the performance from "The Vagina Monologues". Especially after reading the script for what they performed, I felt that a suspension was a very extreme punishment for the students. Now that so much attention is being brought to such issues, more freedom may be explored in school regarding censorship issues. I also think many students will begin to challenge by doing activities that involve them expressing their opinions. I think that it is long overdue for students to start to question what their rights are in school. I think that also giving a student more of their rights as a citizen in school, they may start to value their rights as a citizen outside of school. This may inspire more people to vote. When people are informed about what they can do to change things, they sometimes may actually try. I think that students actually learn better when they feel that they have something to question. If administrators give us something to care about and fight for, it makes us more engaged in what we are learning.

~RitaMarie~ said...

The New York Times states the case in a very broad manner leaving the reader needing to do more research in order to make a decision for themself on whether or not they agree with Fredrick's actions. In my opinion, after reading the atricle on Education Weekly, this has no comparison to the report of the Vagina Monologue's in that the girls involved in that had a purpose.

It is not the actions that should be questioned but his motives.As stated in Education Weekly, Fredrick had prior run-ins with the school prior to this "act of free speech" even occurring. Many articles fail to note that he was cutting school with the excuse that "his car was stuck in the snow." Also in years prior to this incident he had been disciplined for not only refusing to stand and recite the pledge but turning his back to the flag in disrespect. Fredrick freely admits that this was an action purely done for attention in that he wanted the banner to be seen as the Olympic Torch was being displeyed through the town. This was not done in hopes of displaying free speech but now that it has turned in to an issue he is taking credit for something he really had no intention of doing.

I completely agree with the school board think that they have every right to take action as they feel fit since it occurred at a time that they were responsible to them. They are taking this seriously as it is taking it as an act that created unnecessary controversy in a way done solely for attention. The School Board has every right to suspend him for his immature actions. All he wanted was attention, and with that possibly comes suspension. The girls reciting the Vagina Monologues were willing to take the consequenses because it is something that they stronly felt would empower rather than offend. Fredrick is fighting consequenses because he got more than the reaction that he wanted.

Anonymous said...

Michelle Asciote

In the New York Times it shows what Frederick (a student in Alaska) did by showing the banner that says "bong hits 4 Jesus" and he is being backed up by a religious group that shows him as doing it strictly for freedom of speech, it also states how the school might be taking it too far. After further research you see him in a different way. In education week you find him different. In the past he has been known to do stunts that call for him to get attention. Education week shows that he once turned his back on the American Flag and refused to say the pledge of allegiance. I do not agree with his tactics, I feel he is infantile and impulsive. He is desperatly trying to be seen as an activist or someone who stopped and unjustice in this world, but I don't think he truly understands the reprecussions of his actions. Some articles fail to report his actions of his disregard for the rules, one of his excuses for ditching school during an important event was that his "car was stuck in a ditch."
I agree with the school for suspending him and trying to sue him. What Frederick is doing is not for the sake of freedom of speech or for his own beliefs, it was to cause a controversy where he will have his fifteen minutes of fame. The girls who got suspened for saying Vagina in school did it because they saw and actual injustice and spoke up about it to state that a word was not harmful especially a body part. The girls were trying to prove that "The Vagina Monologues" were not bad and would not offend anyone in anyway they did not try to promote anything harmful and hide behind freedom of speech. They did it to feel empowered and for others to feel it. Frederick was just using this to get the attention he feels he needs. I feel he is more of a danger than a person trying to fix some of the wrongs in this world. Like Rita said, Frederick is taking credit where it is not due, whereas the girls who got suspened from the Vagina Monologues took the suspension and said the words to make the school understand that the word is not vulgar but empowering. What Frederick is doing is using the freedom of speech to get psuedo popularity.
Frederick is irresponsible and is now reaping consequences, that even though he did not expect them he now has to endure.

Jay Mangubat said...

Today, in class we read the article called: "Supreme Court Weighs Limits On Student Speech," from the NY Times with Mr. Brown. I have read another article called: '"Bong Hits 4 Jesus': Student Protest Goes To Supreme Court," from ABC News. I found out what happened to a 18-year-old student Joseph Frederick. His principal Ms. Deborah Morse had to suspend him in the year 2002 because he was unfurling the banner which was across the street from the school in Juneau, Alaska. But the court could rule for Frederick if it determines that he was, as he has contended, conducting a free-speech experiment using a nonsensical message that contained no pitch for drug use.Morse, now a Juneau schools' administrator, was at the court Monday. Frederick, teaching and studying in China, was not. Douglas Mertz of Juneau, Frederick's lawyer, struggled to keep the focus away from drugs. ''This is a case about free speech. It is not a case about drugs,'' Mertz said. Conservative groups that often are allied with the administration are backing Frederick out of concern that a ruling for Morse would let schools clamp down on religious expression, including speech that might oppose homosexuality or abortion. Justice Stephen Breyer, in the court's liberal wing, said he was troubled a ruling in favor of Frederick, even if he was making a joke, would make it harder to principals to run their schools.' 'We'll suddenly see people testing limits all over the place in the high schools,'' Breyer said. On the other hand, he said, a decision favorable to the schools ''may really limit people's rights on free speech. That's what I'm struggling with.'' The ninth graders on a class trip from Mosinee, Wis., were in general agreement on the issue. Cari Kemp, 15, said Frederick's protest was ''just a joke'' but that ''the school took it too far.'' The justices, as they often do, sought to probe the limits of each side's argument by altering the facts one way or another. What if, Souter asked, a student held a small sign in a Shakespeare class with the same message Frederick used. ''If the kids look around and they say, well, so and so has got his bong sign again,'' Souter said, as laughter filled the courtroom. ''They then return to Macbeth. Does the teacher have to, does the school have to tolerate that sign in the Shakespeare class?'' A clear majority seemed to side with Morse on one point, that she shouldn't have to compensate Frederick. A federal appeals court said Morse would have to pay Frederick because she should have known her actions violated the Constitution. A decision is expected by July. The case is Morse v. Frederick, 06-278.
Joseph Frederick, a student rebel halfway through his senior year of high school, tried the patience of his principal when he displayed a drug-referenced sign reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a public parade in Juneau, Alaska, in 2002. The 18-year-old had fashioned a 14-foot paper banner, which he held as the Olympic torch passed across the street from his high school on a national relay leading up to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City. Frederick said he wanted to capture the attention of TV cameras — and the ire of his principal. Principal Deborah Morse, who had previously disciplined Frederick for other acts of protest, confiscated the banner and suspended Frederick, sparking a feud that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Monday, the Court will hear arguments on Morse v. Frederick, in what legal experts say could be the most significant case on student free speech since the days of Vietnam War protests. The school charges that Frederick's banner promoted drug use and had an offensive religious message. Frederick said the language, which he had seen on a snowboard, is meaningless. Frederick's case has been taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union, which agrees the message on his banner was controversial, but he had the right to express it. The ACLU further argues that student free speech restrictions since the Tinker case do not apply: The event was not school-sponsored and Frederick was not disruptive. Also in the spotlight is Mary Beth Tinker, now 54 and one of the defendants in the historic Vietnam-era case; she was suspended for wearing a black armband to her Iowa school to protest the war. Now a nurse and advocate for student rights, Tinker said she'll be an "active observer" on the side of young Joseph Frederick. "I had no idea at all the significance of what we did," Tinker, who was only a 13-year-old junior high student at the time of her suspension, told "But it didn't feel fair, and after talking to Joe [Frederick], he felt the same way."
Frederick was suspended for 15 days for his actions. The parade itself was not on school grounds, but Morse's lawyers argue the event was like a school-sanctioned field trip — students were dismissed from classes, and the band and cheerleaders entertained.
All agree that Frederick was a rabble-rouser. The school had previously called police when he refused to leave a common area. The next day, he was disciplined after he remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.
"I never professed to be a saint," Frederick, now 23 and teaching English in China, told reporters at an ACLU teleconference. The ACLU claims Frederick was acting independently of the school, and at least one of his cohorts was a nonstudent. And, say his lawyers, even if his message was construed as pro-marijuana, that issue had been a subject of legitimate political debate in Alaska for years. Ms. Morse's brief argues the ruling undermines "the vital task of teachers, administrators and volunteer school board members in attending holistically to the needs of millions of students entrusted every school day to their charge."

Sam! (continued) said... seems that schools have been pushing it too far lately. With the vagina thing and now this? But my question is, if these schools don't take it too far, would they take it anywhere at all? Like, if these schools didn't make it a point that little issues are a big deal, would they do anything about the big issues?

Superfly said...

Similarly to what I had to say concerning the principal's censorship of the word "vagina", I'm having a great deal of difficulty fathoming how, in the year 2007, we're even having this discussion. The kid wasn't even on school property when he held up the sign (which was NOT promoting drug use). He was across the street from the school, so the principal should not be able to have a hand in what he chooses to say (or write). Additionally, even if he was in school, the 1969, Tinker vs. Des Moines case (featured in the sidebar of the ABC News article.), which says that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” should have protected him from a principal’s suspension.

Obviously many people share my opinion as, according to "'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' Case Finds Strange Legal Bedfellows", an article on, there are a myriad of people and organizations, on either side of the political spectrum, who are supporting Mr. Fredricks (the kid who made and held the banner).

Regardless of how disrespectful and morally repugnant they find the slogan "Bong Hits 4 Jesus", even conservatives and people to the religious right are supporting the kid's first amendment right to hold stupid banners to get on television.

Ruling in favor of Principal Morse "'would give schools the authority to regulate all unpopular, controversial speech,' said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a firm founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson."

However, it is disheartening that many of the right-ists supporting Fredricks and his first amendment rights are doing so for their own (I would say devious) motives. Many of them, according, again, to, are doing so in order to preserve student's rights to promote anti-abortion and anti-gay sentiments in schools. According to the NYTimes, "Conservative groups that often are allied with the administration are backing Frederick out of concern that a ruling for Morse would let schools clamp down on religious expression, including speech that might oppose homosexuality or abortion."

kaitlyn said...

The term "freedom of speech" is a broad topic that covers a large range of grey area. We say we're entilted to free speech, but how far are we protected under the constitution? If we have free speech than what Frederick did by displaying a banner should be tolerated and accepted.

According to Frederick he considered the banner a joke. In the Education Week article Frederick states that, “What the banner says is, ‘I have the right to free speech, and I’m asserting it.’ ” He also said that he knew that some people could be offended by the banner. I don't think that he should have to worry about what other people think about something he wants to say. If we all worry about offending someone than we wouldn't hear other opinions and other thoughts that could help form our own opinion. I enjoy disussing topics in class where everyone doesn't always agree with everyone else.

Do we allow freedom of speech for everyone, without worrying about what they say, or where they are saying it? Or do we censor people because of the place they say their comments? In the Times article, Chief Justice Roberts said that ''I thought we wanted our schools to teach something, including something besides just basic elements, including the character formation and not to use drugs." Yet I hear in the halls students talking about drug use and other things that shouldn't be permitted in schools. If like Roberts said, schools should not promote drug use, should administraters walk around and suspend children talking about innapropriate things?

nyshee.... said...

on the beliefnt website :they aruge that the student joseph frederick wrong for what he did and disresepectful to christans that are very religous.and that they aruge if u cant tell the differnce between school and religous there's a problem.also in the educatin week's website : joseph frederick was "testing the limts of freedom of speech"... he wanted to use drug slang so that he can draw attention to people and to see what there reaction to it will be.. years later now the court is going to find out what the descision will be..

vishnell said...

When we first started talking about this issue and read the New York Times article I quickly took the schools sides. From reading that article it talked about how this high school student got suspended for holding up a sign that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. I felt that this was something not appropriate for a student in school to be saying but incase holding up a sign and making a visual statement. ''I thought we wanted our schools to teach something, including something besides just basic elements, including the character formation and not to use drugs,'' Chief Justice Roberts said Monday. A statement I agree with because when you are in school drugs is one subject that is stressed for students not to do. If we are trying to learn about the negatives about these drugs and exactly why they are bad, why would a student put up a sign which is a statement almost saying there is nothing wrong with smoking marijuana.

Another article said The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Mr. Frederick, says its first argument is that the banner should not be seen as student speech, since it was shown on a public sidewalk. From reading further more about this issue and understanding that the student wasn’t even in the school building or in front of it but across the street from it made me think differently. I mean I am a person that understands what should and should not be said in school. I know about the first amendment and about freedom of speech but still think in a school building you should be limited to what you say because of the environment you are in. I guess I am just confused to weather or not this student deserved the suspension or not. I would think he did if it was in the school or in front of it but since its stating he was on a public sidewalk the school shouldn’t have any rights to suspend the student. I

From another article I read the student said Mr. Frederick said he had first seen the phrase “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” imprinted on a snowboard, and he was not seeking to convey any message about either marijuana or Christianity.
“It was supposed to be subjectively interpreted,” he said. “I was not promoting drugs.” So why did he do it? I don’t get his point! I mean its one thing to carry a sign and fight for this whole freedom of speech issue but don’t you have to have a point? I feel like him backing up what he did is just stupid.

sharkey said...

I have read the NY times article and the belifnet article on “bong hits 4 Jesus”. My opinion on this article is that the school shouldn’t have acted the way they did. He had the right to put the sign up if he wanted. Mr. Fredrick has the right to freedom that includes speech and signs. The NY times offended both sides of the story. They discussed the outcomes of Mr. Fredrick’s case. The belifnet article took the side of the school by saying that the issue was dangerous to religious freedom. I this the court is just going to take the kids side because he had the right of freedom.

christine mullen said...

I just wish that they would decide weather or not we are going to have freedom of speech or not I don’t understand why every time a student wants to express themselves the school turns it into something negative i am just really sick of them having it go both ways either the teachers want you express yourself and then it becomes overwhelming or when you do something to express yourself it should only be what everyone wants to hear or see. The brought up a good point about everyone thinking its not about religion. Even through it hasn’t come out to be that yet but its only a matter of time before it does i know lots of people who where t-shirts that states "JESUS IS MY HOMEBOY". NOW do the people who believe in god have the right to be offended or the right to make that shirt banned from the school building so i just agree that they shouldn’t stop children from expressing themselves unless its just totally unacceptable but other wise these cases are going to be a never ending thing

Anonymous said...

The law and the society that is being governed by the law is getting way out of hand, so many people are getting way out of hand by bringing subjects which can further disrupt and hurt us later. The big problem is that it is being overshadowed with the misconstrueing of the United States Constitution. When some people are truly fighting for the rights that they are being denied, the people who only look for instant fame will make these other activists work harder and possibly lose because of these inconsiderate people.
Michelle Asciote

W Brown said...


Excellent post, very logical, very well cited.

corrie *** said...

After reading the article “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” from the Times and “From Monica to Malibu to Bong Hits 4 Jesus” from the Wall Street Journal I feel that the Alaskan board of education has really over reacted. I feel that day by day our first amendment of the constitution mainly freedom of speech is being restricted. It started with the n word to vagina now it’s a phrase which I believe wasn’t any harm because it wasn’t anti- religion or drug related. I believe it was a high school student who wanted to do something challenging, a prank/ joke and as usual the school thought more of it then what it really was.

I agree with Kaitlyn when she said “The term "freedom of speech" is a broad topic that covers a large range of grey areas. We say we're entitled to free speech, but how far are we protected under the constitution?” I agree because you can say one thing that everyone is ok with and then say something that everyone is against. If everyone goes to court for something they said then there would be a lot of banned and censored words and there wouldn’t be an English language or a limited source of words we can use.

I hope Fredrick wins the court case because this is a waste of time fighting for something you should’ve had since birth.

Superfly said...

Rita, regardless of how stupid and disrespectful you think this kid is and regardless of how much you think he deserved what he got for turning a stupid joke into a statement about free speech, I still want to know how you're all right with taking away his first amendment right. Does the constitution not say something about these rights being for EVERYBODY? ALL citizens? Regardless of how stupid they are? Just something to ponder while you say how fine it is to take away people's rights just because they're being typical teenagers and acting out a little.

W Brown said...

Superfly asks good questions. I think she brought the entire conversation back into the grey area I so enjoy.

Once again I thank you all for making my job so interesting.