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Morse vs. Fredrick

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    On January 23, 2002, the students and faculty of Juneau-Douglas High School were permitted to leave class and attend the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, which was held across the street from the school(Mears). Student Joseph Fredrick was late to class that day and met up with other classmate at the relay, waiting for the television cameras to point in their direction so they could unveil a banner. The banner they presented read “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” and immediately the principal at the time, Deborah Morse, ran over and seized the banner from the students.

    After attempting multiple appeals to several school authorities, Joseph Frederick was suspended from attending class for 10 days for violating the school’s anti-drug policy. This later caused Frederick to file a civil rights lawsuit against the then-principal Morse and the school board, claiming that they violated the first amendment, the freedom of speech(Mears). The district court ultimately dismissed the case upon hearing the summary, ruling that because due to assumption the court interpreted the sign as infringing on the school’s anti-drug policy.

    Later the Ninth Circuit reversed the rulings of the district court, ruling that because Frederick was not on school grounds at the time of the incident, the school might have not been able to restrict his freedom of speech. The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court, and after much oral debate, they ruled that the school board did not infringe upon Frederick’s rights of the first amendment, in that because he was a “a school event” the school still had authority over his use of language and that the Frederick’s banner “promoted the use of drugs”, thus violating the school’s anti-drug policy.

    This case lasted a span of five years, so you can only imagine how much debate went on in between that time frame. You can also only imagine how many opinions there are about such a prolonged case. A prime example would be from the debate in our class. After you introduced the topic, we went on to have a large debate on why and how Frederick was persecuted in the first place. If that much debate went on in just one college class, one can only ponder on how long and intense the debate was during the supreme court case.

    Even though many people argue that his mentioning of Jesus was his undoing or his indirect promotion of illegal drugs was the cause of his persecution, I believe that it was truly his association and relation to both that really triggered the whole fiasco. So one side of this case was that there was no harm intended on Frederick’s banner “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS”. I’m sure many people question why Frederick was persecuted in the first place. Frederick even confessed that he first saw the quote on the sticker of a snowboard(Barnes).

    Some people suggested that maybe the banner actually promoted Jesus instead of the use of illegal drugs, which was certainly a case brought up in the actual case of Frederick vs. Morse. The Supreme court also had an appeal that the banner was nothing more than vulgar comedy that was only meant to bring about humor at the public event, only meant to gain attention. Others argued that the assumed “promotion of drugs” through the use of the words “bong hits” was shocking and outrageous. They argued that even though a bong was mentioned, it doesn’t mean that it is automatically linked with Marijuana or any kind of illegal drugs.

    People from the class even argued that bongs were not totally meant for the use of illegal drugs, claiming that you could smoke tobacco and other things(such as clothes) from bongs. I sometimes wonder how they even obtained that information he first place. I almost completely disagree with this viewpoint and opinion of the case. I actually believe that the punishment didn’t meat the crime in this case, meaning that I do believe that Frederick should’ve been more severely punished because of the banner.

    I also don’t understand how people believe that the term “bong hits” would have no relation to the use of illegal drugs. I mean what else would they be used for, water vases? I understand that you could smoke other items in a bong, but you’re still within a school environment, so the implication of using drugs would’ve still resulted in the same end. That’s like holding up a banner stating “Puff Marlboro for Jesus”, implying the use of drugs. The implication of drugs to me is kind of a one way thing, being there no way to say it besides being straight to the point.

    Now the other side of this argument is that Frederick was promoting the use of illegal drugs by implying “bong hits”, thus causing Morse to suspend Frederick from school for the set number of days. Many argued that the banner being presented at a school event was uncalled for and was influencing the use of illegal drugs upon underage students, violating the school’s anti-drug policy. I can say that I agree with this side of the case more, in that this side has a lot more sense to it. Of course stating “bong its” on a banner at an Olympic event would get you into some trouble. If Frederick had not been persecuted, what would that have implied to other students and people across the United States? Students would no longer care about their limitations of speech at school, knowing that they would be able to get away with whatever they want to say because of their right to the first amendment. Vulgarity and crude humor would be more prominent in the school system today if the case were ruled the other way around.

    Now on to my opinion, being that it was neither the implication of the use of illegal drugs nor the implication of Jesus, but an association and relation of the two that really caused the event. I’m surprised that the argument of the illegal drug implication was more prominent than the use of Jesus in the banner, thinking that religious radicals would stir up more of a problem than the just the issue on education. Now I believe that the association of Jesus, a god who is worshipped in Christianity, and “bong hits”, implying the use of illegal drugs that really caused the stir-up.

    With the 78% of the United States population being of Christian faith(Barry), one can only imagine how much this event affected that immense group of people. The association of the revered God in Christianity with the use of a bong, which was seen as a vulgar activity, was probably viewed as extremely disrespectful to many people, including myself. It’s no different if the sign said “BONG HiTS 4 BUDDHA” or “BONG HiTS 4 ALLAH”. The implication of any god in a prominent religion associated with “bong shots” would be fated to cause controversy.

    Being brought up in a household and community that influences Christianity more than your average parish, that sign was very disrespectful to me. Just as the young man in our class that stated that he would rip that sign from that guy’s hands if he saw that banner, I believe that I would do no different. Disrespecting one’s beliefs, to me, is one of the worst things you could socially do to someone. I don’t think many people on today’s society believe in the teachings of Isaac Newton, even though it was meant for physics it could most definitely be used in an ethical sense.

    Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That meaning that for every action there is a consequence, be it good or bad. One cannot expect to do whatever they please without paying the consequence for their actions. All in all, I can say that every situation has viewpoints that each branch off and have their own variables that contribute to the overall result. In the case of Morse vs. Frederick there were only two sides to choose from, which is the case for most cases like these.

    You could either agree that Frederick’s banner was out of context and that he deserved to be punished, or you could have agreed that Frederick was still in context of his rights of the first amendment and that he was wrongfully persecuted. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as my opinion in the case is that neither side was correct, more that it was a portion of both that really contributed to the beginning of the problem. Work Cited Page Barnes, Robert (2007-03-13). “Justices to Hear Landmark Free-Speech Case”.

    The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009). “AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY (ARIS) 2008” (PDF). Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College. Mears, Bill (2007-03-19). “High court hears ‘Bong hits 4 Jesus’ case”. CNN. Melinda Cupps Dickler (Visiting Assistant Professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology), Article: The Morse Quartet: Student Speech And The First Amendment. 53 Loy. L. Rev. 355

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    Morse vs. Fredrick. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/morse-vs-fredrick/

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