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BONG HiTS 4 CITIZENS: Civic Education & Political Authority
Unformatted Document Text:  BONG HiTS 4 CITIZENS: Civic Education & Political Authority Ian MacMullen, 2008 MPSA Conference In January 2002, Joseph Frederick was in the mood for a little notoriety. Frederick, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska, decided to prepare a banner to display on a school trip to watch the Olympic torch being run through the streets of Juneau. The message on the banner was, as Justice Roberts declared in his majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court five and a half years later, “cryptic.” 1 The exact wording – indeed, lettering and numbering – was “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” Deborah Morse, the principal of the school, saw the banner as soon as it was unfurled. She understood the slogan to advocate the use of marijuana and therefore to violate the school’s policy against expressions that advocate the use of illegal drugs. Morse promptly confiscated the banner and subsequently suspended Frederick for ten days. Peggy Cowan, the Juneau School District Superintendent, upheld the suspension. Frederick took the issue to the federal courts on First Amendment free speech grounds. He lost in district court, won his appeal to the Ninth Circuit, but ultimately lost again at the Supreme Court, which ruled 5- 4 in favor of the school officials. Superintendent Cowan declared that “Frederick was not advocating the legalization of marijuana or promoting a religious belief.” 2 It is hard to know quite how to assess this claim. Frederick himself asserts that his banner was intended to be meaningless, just a publicity stunt. But I am not at all convinced that we are bound to accept as decisive for our purposes this retrospective self-report of intended meaning (or lack thereof). 1 Morse et. al. v. Frederick, 551 U.S. (2007), p. 6 2 Cited in Morse, Roberts’ opinion for the court, p. 3

Authors: MacMullen, Ian.
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BONG HiTS 4 CITIZENS: Civic Education & Political Authority
Ian MacMullen, 2008 MPSA Conference
In January 2002, Joseph Frederick was in the mood for a little notoriety. Frederick, a
senior at Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska, decided to prepare a banner to display
on a school trip to watch the Olympic torch being run through the streets of Juneau. The
message on the banner was, as Justice Roberts declared in his majority opinion for the
U.S. Supreme Court five and a half years later, “cryptic.”
1
The exact wording – indeed,
lettering and numbering – was “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” Deborah Morse, the principal of
the school, saw the banner as soon as it was unfurled. She understood the slogan to
advocate the use of marijuana and therefore to violate the school’s policy against
expressions that advocate the use of illegal drugs. Morse promptly confiscated the
banner and subsequently suspended Frederick for ten days. Peggy Cowan, the Juneau
School District Superintendent, upheld the suspension. Frederick took the issue to the
federal courts on First Amendment free speech grounds. He lost in district court, won his
appeal to the Ninth Circuit, but ultimately lost again at the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-
4 in favor of the school officials.
Superintendent Cowan declared that “Frederick was not advocating the legalization of
marijuana or promoting a religious belief.”
2
It is hard to know quite how to assess this
claim. Frederick himself asserts that his banner was intended to be meaningless, just a
publicity stunt. But I am not at all convinced that we are bound to accept as decisive for
our purposes this retrospective self-report of intended meaning (or lack thereof).
1
Morse et. al. v. Frederick, 551 U.S. (2007), p. 6
2
Cited in Morse, Roberts’ opinion for the court, p. 3


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