As the video-killed-the-radio-star news channel summarizes:
No, the staunchly conservative religious right hasn't gone hippie, but it has allied with some unlikely partners on the left in one of the most important school free-speech cases in a half-century. In fact, the case of Morse vs. Frederick could have serious implications on the limits of speech in public schools for generations to come.
- The case stems from 2002, when students in Juneau, Alaska, schools were allowed to leave school grounds to watch the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of their town on the way to Salt Lake City.
A downright patriotic moment, but... "As cheerleaders and the school band performed, a Juneau-Douglas High School student named Joseph Frederick and some friends unfurled a 14-foot banner that read 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' just as cameras were passing them."
Clearly, Joe was shooting for a nomination in the annual Beavis & Butthead awards.
- Principal Deborah Morse demanded that Frederick -- who had clashed with school officials in the past and has admitted he flew the banner to tweak administrators -- take down the banner. He claimed it was just a joke derived from a nonsensical phrase he'd seen on a snowboard and was meant only to get him on television, not to condone drugs or religion. When Frederick refused to roll up the banner, Morse ripped it down and gave him a 10-day suspension.
Seems par for the course, but the story continues:
- Frederick sued, asserting his free-speech rights had been violated and, so far, he's won in court. In the subsequent court cases, the school has argued that it had a right to limit speech that promotes illegal behavior and runs counter to school policy, such as promoting a pro-drug message.
As one would expect, the ACLU is backing young Frederick in the name of free speech. But so are Christian groups. If Freddy loses, they fear an era of "viewpoint censorship" in the public schools which "could run the gamut from anti-abortion T-shirts to anti-war banners to Bible clubs."
Yep, there is that bugaboo about not being able to control which speech is censored. Dissing its friends on the religious right, "The Bush administration has lined up behind the principals and the Juneau School Board, who are represented by notorious former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr."
That puts the administration at odds with traditional conservative allies like the Rutherford Institute, whose president, John Whitehead, argues:
- Schools have become like prisons, where students are discouraged from using free speech and there's this draconian atmosphere... when someone who is on a private sidewalk and said he was joking around and not advocating drugs or religion and was not on public ground... The point of the case is, 'Can a school extend its authority off grounds and punish someone for a free-speech issue?'
We know that Larry, America's principal publishing primate, is no waffler on free speech issues. What about the other bipeds out there?
— Michael Harris, Broadband Barrister, Cable Digital News