Bong Hits For Jesus Heads For Supreme Court

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An Alaskan high school student decides to test the limits of free speech, and test it he will!

The long journey started five years ago, on a quiet afternoon at Juneau-Douglas High School, as a student sat alone in the commons area reading Albert Camus' novel "The Stranger."

In mid-March, the road ends at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the nationally watched "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case will test the limits of free speech in public schools.

Joe Frederick was an 18-year-old senior back then. His classes were done for the day, and "Camaro Joe," as some kids called him, was waiting for his girlfriend to finish so he could give her a ride home. As Frederick recalls the story, a vice principal approached and told him he couldn't stay in the commons without supervision. He would have to leave the campus to wait for her.

Frederick refused. He insisted he had a right to sit quietly in his own school and read a French existentialist. Two Juneau police officers were summoned, and Frederick left after they threatened to arrest him for trespass.

The next morning at school, Frederick turned his chair around and sat with his back to the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

"This was my symbolic protest against a school administration that clearly lacked common sense and abused its power to retaliate against anyone who dared question their authority," he wrote later in a mini-autobiography where he quoted Thoreau, Voltaire, and Martin Luther King.

Frederick said his father was summoned to the school to discuss a possible suspension. School officials say they have no record of the incident.

Regarding a suspension at that point, the Supreme Court was already clear. In the unsettled world of free speech rights in public schools, the right to refuse to salute the flag is one of the few established points.

After that, Frederick said, he resolved to find a free speech protest that would draw wider notice.

He found one.

On Jan. 24, 2002, Frederick and friends unfurled a 14-foot paper banner with duct-tape letters reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." They were standing on a sidewalk opposite the high school during a public Olympic-torch parade attended by students and teachers.

The phrase, which they'd spotted on a snowboard sticker at a local ski slope, was meant to be funny, provocative, and nonsensically ambiguous, Frederick said. To school officials, it was an open challenge to their anti-drug policies, at what they deemed a school event.

Principal Deborah Morse crossed the street and crumpled up the banner.

Frederick's move--and the school's stern response--had more impacts than he ever imagined. The incident gave way to his suspension from school, several arrests by Juneau police, a lawsuit against the city settled in his favor, the loss of his father's job and, eventually, the departure of father and son from Alaska and the United States.

It also resulted in a court case, Morse v. Frederick, that has climbed through the federal system and will be up for oral argument in the Supreme Court on March 19.

Frederick, now 23, still sounded like the defiant student existentialist Friday in a teleconference from China, where he is teaching high school English.

"I wanted to know more precisely the boundaries of my freedom," he said when reporters asked why he'd raised the banner. "I feel that if you don't use your rights you lose them."

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Posted by JMposter on 2007-03-06 10:13:50
Hurray for this guy...we need more teenagers
paying this much attention. We're lucky to
have kids like this in our society...whoops,
he's not IN our society anymore. Shouldn't
he come back and continue raising hell here?
Or has he given up that fast?
 

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