Free Speech in Public Schools: The “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” Case

San Diego, CA, May 19, 2007 --( This week on, they’re featuring a vigorous debate on one of the most controversial cases of the Supreme Court’s current term: Morse v. Frederick, popularly known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case.

In 2002, Deborah Morse, high school principal in Juneau, Alaska, allowed her students to attend an outdoor rally to watch the Olympic torch passing through. Senior Joseph Frederick unfurled a fifteen-foot banner that read, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Morse ordered Frederick to take it down, but he refused. She then crumpled up the banner and suspended Frederick for ten days. Frederick then sued Morse for free speech violation, holding Morse personally liable for the damages.

Julie Hilden, a columnist for, argues for Frederick in the case. “There are few First Amendment violations,” she writes in “Why the Student Should Prevail,” “clearer than a government employee’s physically destroying a message—whether it’s burning a book or destroying a banner. That’s censorship with a capital ‘C.’ The line is quite clear: Don’t burn books. Don’t put your hand over another person’s mouth at a political rally. And don’t tear up banners that others created and are holding up so that others can read them.”

But Eric Hagen, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis who represents Morse and the Juneau School Board, responds in “Why the School Should Prevail”: “As a product of a public high school education, this author can recall fellow classmates being told that they could not wear t-shirts to school containing beer and cigarette logos. Some students may have chafed at this regulation of ‘expression.’ But their parents did not arm their children with plaintiff lawyers seeking damages from public school educators. I can assume that the parents and students reasonably concluded that the promotion of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco really had no place in the school environment.”

Hilden then responds to Hagen in “Crucial First Amendment Principles at Stake,” while Hagen replies again in “Context Matters in Student Speech Saga.”

Where do you come down on this important issue? Be sure to read the debate for yourself and take the poll afterwards.

James Kidd