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Extent of schools' authority not just an issue in Norwalk

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:50 PM

If Joseph Frederick had been in his Juneau, Alaska, school that day in 2002 when he unfurled a 14-foot banner that read "Bong hits 4 Jesus," we'd say that then-principal Deborah Morse would have been within her rights to make him take it down. It could plausibly be interpreted as a message promoting the use of an illegal drug, although it could just as plausibly be interpreted as what it apparently was a publicity stunt.

But Frederick was across the street from school, with a group of students watching the Winter Olympics torch relay pass by. Frederick was suspended from school for 10 days and he sued, saying his free speech rights had been violated.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the student, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal on March 19.

In a public setting, Frederick should be free to say anything he likes and the fact that the message may go against school policy shouldn't make any difference. ...

During the Vietnam War, a free-speech decision ruled that students don't "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

We hope this decision makes it equally clear that administrators' authority does not extend beyond that gate.

Denver Rocky Mountain News

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