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Case Summary:
Morse v. Frederick (2007)

Student Speech

Students hold banner that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

Though marijuana use, for medical reasons or otherwise, is becoming legal in several states, that was not the case in Juneau, Alaska, in 2002. That did not stop high school student Joseph Frederick from holding up a banner at a school event that read “BONG HITS 4 JESUS.” Principal Deborah Morse viewed this banner as promoting illegal drug use and ordered the student to take it down. When Frederick refused, he was suspended for 10 days under a school policy prohibiting the display of materials promoting illegal drug use. Frederick, however, sued Morse and the school board for violating his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Though the District Court agreed with Morse, the Court of Appeals cited Tinker to rule that Frederick’s speech was permitted because he had not caused a disturbance.

The Supreme Court disagreed in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. The majority affirmed that students have some speech rights in school, but “the nature of those rights is what is appropriate for children in school. Because of the “special characteristics of the school environment” and “the governmental interest in stopping student drug abuse,” schools are allowed “to restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as promoting such abuse.”

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