On Wednesday Students for Sensible Drug Policy officially took action to defend students’ rights in a brief filed in the most important Supreme Court case ever to deal with student free speech about drugs and drug policy. SSDP filed an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief in the Supreme Court case of Morse v Frederick, better known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case. Read the brief at http://www.ssdp.org/ssdp-scotus-bh4j.pdf.
This case has made national news, sparking discussion about whether students have the right to express opinions contrary to school policy. High school student Joseph Frederick, 18 at the time, held up a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at a school-sanctioned, off-campus event (the viewing of an Olympic Torch parade). He sued his principal and school board after receiving a 10-day suspension. Losing the case in federal district court, Frederick won his appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. When his school board appealed that ruling, the Supreme Court accepted the case.
While this case started out with a student being punished for displaying an absurd banner, the potential consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision are far from a laughing matter. The school district, represented pro bono by Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr, is arguing for a blanket prohibition on any student speech about drugs. They argue that schools should be able to ban speech that is “inconsistent with the mission of the school to promote healthy lifestyles (including at every turn to combat substance abuse).” If the Supreme Court adopts this standard, principals could legally prevent students from forming SSDP chapters at their high schools!
This restrictive standard would also mean that students could be punished for openly debating their school’s random drug testing policies, challenging the effectiveness of D.A.R.E., or speaking out against random locker searches. Whatever you think of the effectiveness of these programs, it is essential that students have the right to debate the merits of policies that directly impact their lives.
The school district also argues that schools should have the right to punish student speech that an administrator could “reasonably glean … exposes a positive sentiment” about drugs. Under this standard, students could be punished for supporting a decriminalization voter initiative, advocating for medical marijuana laws, or even talking about how marijuana has helped a relative suffering from cancer.
SSDP filed a brief because this case because we know that the ability of students to discuss drug policy issues is vitally important. However, filing a Supreme Court brief is expensive for a small non-profit such as ours. Our printing and filing fees for this brief will cost up to $1,500. We are willing to take this money out of our budget because of the importance of this case, but are asking our supporters to help offset the cost by making a generous contribution to SSDP today at http://www.ssdp.org/donate/
I hope you will take the time to read SSDP’s amicus brief in this important Supreme Court case. Thank you for your enduring support.