Newshawk: Educators For Sensible Drug Policy: http://www.efsdp.org
Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2006
Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Copyright: 2006 The Anchorage Daily News
Author: Beth Bragg
(Students - United States)
SCHOOL'S FIGHT TO CENSOR POSTER ENSURES WE'LL NEVER FORGET IT
When it comes to Bong Hits 4 Jesus, here's some Advice 4 Dummies:
If the phrase poses such a threat to the health and future of any
teenager exposed to it, then stop making a federal case out of it.
If the Juneau School Board, in its infinite stubbornness, is so
worried that the message waved on a banner four years ago at a
nonschool event will lead high school kids down the path to illegal
drug use, why does it insist on giving the message such tremendous exposure?
Google "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and you'll get 14,100 hits. Included
among them is proof positive that the message has become part of the
vernacular: It has its own Wikipedia entry.
And all Joe Frederick wanted was to catch the eye of a TV cameraman.
Frederick is the man who, back when he was a senior at Juneau-Douglas
High School, made a 10-foot banner to wave as the Olympic torch relay
passed through Juneau. A true Alaska artist, he used butcher paper
as his canvas and duct tape as his paint to craft the sign that now
waves in perpetuity: Bong Hits 4 Jesus.
The school principal, Deborah Morse, went nuts -- even though
Frederick wasn't on school property, wasn't at a school-sponsored
event, wasn't under direct supervision of school employees and wasn't
representing the school in any way imaginable.
Nor did he cause a disruption at school. School officials admitted as
much to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawyers for Morse and the
school board argue that Morse's confiscation of the banner and
suspension of Frederick were justified because the poster was
inconsistent with the school's mission to teach a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Morse suspended Frederick for 10 days, which in the world of school
suspensions ranks just below the death penalty. The last known
instance of duct-tape-fueled student insurgency -- physically abusive
hazings perpetrated by Service High football players in 1999 --
resulted in suspensions ranging from 12 to 14 days.
Frederick fought back, claiming his First Amendment right to free
speech had been violated. The 9th Circuit agreed. And now Kenneth
Starr has something besides a stained blue cocktail dress to concern
Starr, the attorney whose investigation helped impeach President
Clinton, will argue Morse's and the school board's side of things
should the Supreme Court decide to review the case.
He's working pro bono, although the pursuit of censorship won't come
free to the citizens of Juneau, or the citizens of Alaska, for that
matter. The Alaska Association of School Boards, which is funded in
part by dues paid by member schools, decided last month to give the
Juneau School Board $15,000 to continue the fight.
But if the school district loses, it will have to pay Frederick's
attorney fees. Doug Mertz, Frederick's lawyer, figures each side has
racked up $100,000 worth of expenses so far, with another $35,000 to
come if the Supreme Court takes the case. But, he said, the
district's insurance policy should cover all but about $25,000 of the
Wonder how much drug-prevention education you could buy for $25,000?
Yet the president of the Juneau School Board, Phyllis Carlson, told
the Juneau Empire that the case needs to be pursued because the most
recent ruling -- which said Frederick's right to free speech had been
violated -- lacks clarity. It left the district "with no guidance as
to where and when we can enforce our policy against messages
promoting illegal drug use," she told the newspaper.
Well, here's some guidance: If a school wants to deny a kid his
constitutional rights, make sure it's for something he did at school
or at a school activity.
And make sure it's an egregious offense, not a silly caper. What do
you think awaits the poor kid who dares listen to lyrics like Bob
Dylan's "Everybody Must Get Stoned" during lunch?
From the very beginning of this, Juneau's administrators and school
board have overreached. The tentacles stretched so far as to cost
Frederick's dad his job as a risk manager for Alaska Public Entity
Insurance, the company that insured the school board back in 2002. A
jury ruled that Frank Frederick was first demoted and then fired
because of his son's lawsuit and, according to Mertz, awarded him
$180,000 in damages.
Wonder if anyone's insurance rates went up because of that?
Now the school board is on a face-saving mission bursting with irony.
By insisting that Bong Hits 4 Jesus is a message so fraught with
peril that the need to censor it trumps free speech, it has cemented