U.S. Supreme Court
Limited Reach for ‘Bong Hits’ Ruling
Posted Jun 26, 2007 10:21 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
An unusual assortment of groups had pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to rule a school could not punish a student for unfurling a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”
Conservative Christian organizations and gay rights groups both supported student free speech, but for differing reasons, the Washington Post reports.
Christians worried a decision limiting speech could be used to punish students who object to homosexuality. Gays worried such a decision could be used to penalize students who want to make a public declaration of their sexual orientation.
The court nonetheless supported the Alaska principal who suspended the student for the banner, ruling public schools do not violate the First Amendment by punishing students who advocate illegal drug use. The decision, however, was narrow, since it applied only in the drug context.
Some experts told the Post that student speech about sexuality can’t be suppressed under the court’s narrow decision. But Francisco Negron Jr., general counsel of the National School Boards Association, told the Post it’s unclear how courts will deal with those issues.
School officials had hoped for a broader decision allowing them to limit any messages contrary to their educational mission.
A separate opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito said the kind of broad discretion sought by schools “strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment,” the New York Times reports.