Public school officials do not violate a student's free speech rights when they prohibit displays that promote illegal drug use, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, June 25.
The 5-4 decision appeared to satisfy religious groups which had expressed concern that a ruling could give schools power to limit student religious expression that officials find offensive.
But in Monday's opinion, the majority emphasized the limited nature of the holding, which is confined to illegal drug use.
"We hold that schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.
The case, Morse v. Frederick, concerns Alaska high school student, Joseph Frederick, now 24, who unfurled a 14-foot-long "Bong Hits 4Jesus" banner as the Olympic torch passed near his school in 2002. Frederick later testified that he intended the banner "to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television."
But Deborah Morse, the principal at Juneau-Douglas High School, suspended Frederick for 10 days because she said the banner promoted illegal drug use in violation of school policy.
Frederick sued and won the backing of several conservative religious organizations. Though they disagreed with the message in question, the groupssuch as the Christian Legal Society and the American Center for Law and Justiceworried that the court might cut back on student free speech rights established in a series of earlier rulings that applied to political and religious expression.
"Not even Frederick argues that the banner conveys any sort of political or religious message," Roberts noted, adding, "This is plainly not a case about political ...1
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