Brief Fact Summary. Joseph Frederick (P) , a public school student, was suspended by the principal Deborah Morse (D) for displaying a banner on which was written “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”, bong being slang for marijuana, at a school event which was covered by television. He sued the Principal.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Public schools may lawfully prevent students from promoting the use of illegal drugs by display of banners or other material at any event supervised by the school.
Issue. Are public schools permitted under law to prevent students from promoting illegal drug use by the display of messages?
Held. (Roberts, C.J.) Yes. Public schools are allowed under law to prevent the display of messages by students which would promote drug use at events held under school auspices. Students do not enjoy full rights to freedom of speech while at school, as compared to adults, and the standard of student freedom of speech as set forth inTinker need not be taken as normative. The right to free speech while in school does not, for example, cover the right to promote illegal drug use, since this clashes with the school’s duty and responsibility to discourage this habit. Frederick’s message was not absolutely clear but carried a reasonable implication of favoring marijuana use. In this case the question of the Principal’s immunity need not be considered.
This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.View Full Point of Law
Concurrence. (Thomas, J.) Students have no right to free speech in the adult context, and the decision in Tinker deserves to be struck out completely.
(Alito, J.) The decision to allow schools to restrict speech should be applicable to pro-drug content only and broader political speech should enjoy full freedom.
Discussion. The decision in this case came by a majority of 5-4. The Court was of two minds as to the students’ rights to freedom of speech to the utmost extent guaranteed by the First Amendment. In the case of Tinker, the decision was clear that the student continues to enjoy every freedom protected by the constitution even while at school, but in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S.260 (1986) the Court ruled that Tinker must be limited by the particular situation of the school environment, in applying constitutional freedoms, and this was confirmed by Bethel School District No 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S.675 (1986) , in which the rights of students in the setting of a public school are not to be held to be as extensive as the rights of adults in other situations.