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« Sir Salman Sparks Seriously Stupid Statements The RantsThe Eyes Have It Very, Very Rarely »

Don't Bogart the Constitution, Dude
2007.06.28 (Thu) 16:59

Joseph Frederick held up a banner in Juneau, Alaska, back in 2002. The banner read: Bong Hits 4 Jesus. Personally, we feel that Jesus himself would probably endorse this statement...if he could read English. And if he, you know, still actually existed (assuming, for a moment, that he ever did). The clues are ubiquitous in the bible, and heavily implied in many depictions of the Last Supper. (Man, can you imagine sitting through Haggadah passages, dealing with the munchies for four hours, before you finally get a bite of Passover dinner?) Hell, the signs are everywhere — just ask Dan Brown.

Of course, when Joseph Frederick's school principal, Deborah Morse, confiscated his sign and suspended him, it was a hell of a buzzkill. Lawsuits ensued, appeals escalated, and this ridiculous situation — sparked by a fucking sign — managed to get all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Given the current composition of the court, the result wasn't hard to guess:

A high school student's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner got slapped down by the Supreme Court in a decision Monday that restricts student speech rights when the message seems to advocate illegal drug use.

There's a big problem, here, folks, and it isn't limited to Joseph Frederick and his unoriginal but certainly fun sentiment. There are several ways to look at what happened here, both in the initial incident, and in the final decision by the Supremes.

First, you have the linguists' view. This seems to focus on the fact that "bong" is an accepted and acceptable term for the physical object to which it refers, and it seems silly to take that specific word and make a ruling based upon it. The conclusion to this hypothesis is that, if Tommy Chong had been selling "water pipes" instead of "bongs," he never would have done time. We can get behind that, though only because we think that any ruling against any use of words, phrases, references, or speech in general is fucking insane and incredibly fucking stupid.

Next, you have the idiots who think this is some kind of school discipline situation. Nice try, though it's utter bullshit — Joseph was off school property at the time, holding up the banner as the Olympic Torch was passing through Juneau. The school, of course, claims that this was a "school-sanctioned event" — they brought the kids off campus to watch the torch pass, and "therefore" Joseph's behavior was still governed by school rules. We disagree, but in the end, it's a moot point anyway. We honestly don't give a shit if this was a "field trip" or not, because even if Joseph was governed by school rules, we're still talking about a silly, nonsensical sign which may have been inappropriate, but which nonetheless certainly should have fallen into the category of protected speech.

But this whole thing gets even more inane. Because next, you have the idiots in black robes who are pretending that Joseph's banner was in some way a promotion or endorsement of drug use.

In their concurrence Alito and Kennedy said that the decision "goes no further than to hold that a public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use."

This is just ludicrous. A "reasonable observer" would interpret this as advocating illegal drug use?

First of all, no. A reasonable observer (we have yet to see Alito or even Kennedy qualify there) would interpret this as a silly kid making a silly sign for fun and/or attention. Period. That's reasonable. Jumping to the fucking asinine assertion that this is some way for Joseph to say "Hey, kids, smoke pot!" isn't quite as "reasonable."

In fact, we defy anyone to explain what this statement means beyond a reasonable doubt. The point is that the statement is so vague and nonsensical that it is almost entirely open to interpretation. It could be a statement about the hypocrisy of the Religious Right, who both embrace Jesus and deplore the very drug that the image of a besandaled, bearded, robed wanderer who preaches peace and tolerance inevitably conjures up. Or it could be a statement sarcastically condemning Christians who use drugs. Or it could be a statement rallying Christians to support the legalization of marijuana. Or it could just have been something that some sky-high kid wrote on a snowboard that another kid thought would be funny on television. (No way! Kids imitate catchy sayings they've seen in previous venues? Wow. And did you know that stuff costs more than it used to? Incidentally, the sun is hot and, this just in, water is fucking wet.)

But that's all utterly beside the point; even if Joseph was endorsing drug use, this decision is fucking incredibly obtuse. Books and papers have been banned here and there for centuries because "somebody" thought they meant something — but the fact is, it doesn't matter if they're right about what it means or not. Either fucking way, O Mighty Protectors of the Constitution (remember that rag? The one you're supposed to be paying attention to?), we free citizens of this democratic republic have the right to endorse or promote whatever opinions we wish, even if those opinions are contrary to the current laws.

Guess what, dickheads? As long as we aren't actually breaking the fucking law, we get to express our opinions about the legitimacy of that law as much as we fucking want. We grant this privilege to fucking NAMBLA, for fuck's sake, and others (like the Ku Klux Klan) — specifically so that all other citizens get the same privilege. That is the point of the freedom of speech in the First Amendment. A point which a majority of the Supreme Court Justices appear to have utterly fucking failed to grasp. In fact, the concurring opinion penned by Alito and Kennedy, as quoted in the ABC News article, illustrates perfectly how they have failed to grasp the situation:

In a concurrence, Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy said the court's opinion "goes no further" than speech interpreted as dealing with illegal drug use.

"It provides no support" for any restriction that goes to political or social issues, they said.

Wrong, fellas. Depending on your interpretation of the message (as discussed above), the case in question could very likely have been about a social or political statement. And if it's possible — and even likely — that Joseph's message was socially or politically motivated (even if only as an exercise in his First Amendment rights), then this ruling does in fact restrict the very type of speech that it claims not to restrict. How can anyone be so fucking thick-headed as to miss this obvious point?

For his part, Joseph claims his "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" statement was just something that struck his fancy when he first saw it printed on a snowboard. He claims he didn't mean anything by it, nor was he really endorsing any "message." He just found something "witty" he wanted to throw up at a public event to annoy his principal, because he could. Oops — sorry, Joe; as it turns out...you can't. Not with this Supreme Court, anyway.

Perhaps the big double whammy comes from the fact that his banner referenced both drug use and the Christian Lord 'n' Savior in conjunction; and those are both very hot buttons for the idiots on the Right. Would it have been more palatable if Joseph's banner had said "Nitrous Oxide 4 Buddha"? Hey, nitrous oxide has legitimate, legal uses (of course, so does marijuana). And Buddha isn't the patron fucking wunderkind of the majority of the Supreme Court Justices. So that should be just fine, right?

Or perhaps, it should have been fine anyway:

[Dissenting Justice John Paul] Stevens said the First Amendment protects student speech if the message itself neither violates a permissible rule nor expressly advocates conduct that is illegal and harmful to students.

"This nonsense banner does neither," Stevens said.

See that word, folks? NONSENSE. That aptly describes Joseph's sign — purely harmless nonsense. It also aptly describes the Supreme Court decision — absolutely fucking horrendous nonsense that can easily be compounded over the next decade or so into more and more limitations on our freedoms. As we've said before, we'll be rid of Dubya soon enough, but we'll be living under the burden of his Supreme Court appointees for a long time to come.

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[  Filed under: % Government & Politics  % Media & Censorship  ]

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Comments (14)

Jason Spicer, 2007.06.29 (Fri) 02:39 [Link] »

A sensible (or even truly conservative) Supreme Court wouldn't have even agreed to hear this silly case.

These are depressing times for functioning neurons. Maybe some bong hits would help. Or I could just turn my brain over to Jebus. I'm sure he'd have some use for it. Paperweight, doorstop, etc.

Esther Dail, 2007.06.29 (Fri) 08:40 [Link] »

And here I thought that students didn't give up any of their rights when they entered school.

Zombie Jebus, 2007.07.03 (Tue) 00:42 [Link] »

Mmmmm..... brain.....

John W, 2007.07.03 (Tue) 09:36 [Link] »
"It provides no support" for any restriction that goes to political or social issues, they said.

Well that's just a plain contradiction anyway. A statement on the legality of drugs is a political statement, so if a restriction is made on what can or can't be said about drugs, then that restriction is necessarily a "restriction that goes to political or social issues". It doesn't really matter whether Joseph's statement was intended to be political or not, they've suppressed a form of political speach.

Jason Spicer, 2007.07.05 (Thu) 20:09 [Link] »

Not at all. Didn't anybody tell you we're fighting a War on Drugs? As such, drugs are unlawful enemy combatants, so any speech concerning them is illegal, not political.

Most people make the mistake of assuming that the political continuum goes from left to right. In the neocon looniverse, the political spectrum goes from illegal to right-thinking.

That Joseph Frederick guy is lucky he didn't land in Guantanamo. Or Bulgaria.

JC, 2007.07.08 (Sun) 19:36 [Link] »

Wouldn't the statement only be political if it advocated the changing of the law (ie. the legalisation of cannabis)?

If it merely advocate the breaking of the law (without a political motivation) it is non-political. A bit like incitement to commit murder is a common crime, but when the motivation for the murder is political it becomes a political crime.

But it is hard to find any substance in what the banner actually says so the whole question is moot. It is just dumb in a mildly amusing way.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.07.09 (Mon) 17:42 [Link] »

Well, actually, you can make a highly political statement that doesn't involve a change in legislation or policy — for instance, "Bush has to go" (a statement which many of us can probably get behind by this point). On the flip side, Joseph Frederick's message itself could conceivably be about the legalization of drugs, which would be a change in the law. Hey, it's certainly vague enough that his actual intent is far from obvious.

But, as you noted, that's all pretty irrelevant, JC, since you got it in one by saying:

But it is hard to find any substance in what the banner actually says so the whole question is moot. It is just dumb in a mildly amusing way.

That's the clincher. This was a silly slogan on some high school kid's sign, the primary purpose of which seems to have been to get on television. (Oops — it worked.) Why any of what are supposed to be the finest legal minds in our country are reading anything more into this sign...well, that's an easy mystery to solve — and it has absolutely zero to do with the law, and much more to do with personal "moral" opinions. Way to impartially discharge those Constitutional duties, Supremes!

JC, 2007.07.10 (Tue) 17:10 [Link] »

Well obviously a statement doesn't need to be about changing the law to be political.

My point was that the only way (that I can see) that the specific statement: "Bong Hits for Jesus" could be considered political is if it is interpreted as a call to legalise cannabis. It is not sufficient for it to merely promote the use of cannabis.

So... angels on the head of a pin, anyone?

Jason Spicer, 2007.07.11 (Wed) 02:21 [Link] »

"Bong hits for Jesus" is clearly a constitutional argument based on the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. As such, I consider it to be concise, coherent, complete, and compelling.

Or at least, as an argument against the new Prohibition, it makes as much sense as any of the arguments in favor of the new Prohibition.

The interesting thing about this case was that the religious right was actually on Frederick's side, making basically the argument I make above. Which just goes to show there's not much difference between being religious and being stoned.

JMARS, 2007.07.16 (Mon) 15:09 [Link] »

There is no political relevance in this case since the sign had nothing to do with the event in which it was displayed. It's an absurd, adulterated version of a Christian catch phrase. Only if it were at a rally to legalize marijuana could one then assume its purpose. I fully believe that offense was taken when the word "bong" was associated with the name "Jesus" and that the illegal drug advocacy claim was only contrived to allow them to squeeze past that annoying 1st amendment thing.

And I could argue that the statement "Bush has to go" is publicly advocating the assassination of the President. And for that matter, a high school student attending a school function with a sign that says "Slaughter the Sultans" could be encouraging the students to bring weapons to the big game to murder the rival school attendees.

Charlene Dewbre, 2007.11.10 (Sat) 06:07 [Link] »

The problem is larger than the Supreme Court. They're politicized - no new member of the court can get confirmed unless they have religiously stated exactly NOTHING in the entirety of their judicial record.

With the Democrats unable to get their act together (I can't believe they summoned the wherewithal to actually overturn a veto, FINALLY) and the Republicans equating left as criminal, unpatriotic and godless, the American public now has what they have chosen: a centrist Supreme Court that overwhelmingly favors conservative values and dare I say it, even religious overtones in their decisions.

Political campaigns are won with millions of dollars in ad buys, a ridiculous pandering show of 'values', and demonizing your opponents. Those who cover the other guy in the most horseshit wins.

Increasingly, voters buy into the Hollywood "famous is fabulous" deification so really, all you have to do to get elected in this country is make sure to have had a movie role and walked the Oscar red carpet in Prada.

Oh, and to get the midwest? Say you love soybeans, corn, G-d, and guns. Make sure your indiscretion was sex and not pills, too, please. Get your hair done, but not by someone who charges more than 80 bucks. Don't ever voice a real opinion or engage in a real debate.

We get to choose between "So What" and "Who Cares" on election day. I would love to see a national election campaign founded online and paid for by donation through Paypal devoted to the "No one wins!" campaign. A write-in on every ballot in every state of "I vote for Ima Nobody" to show the politicos that we really understand who they stand for in American politics.

Jason Spicer, 2007.11.10 (Sat) 14:50 [Link] »

Charlene, I certainly share your frustration (and a fair amount of your cynicism), but protest votes don't really accomplish much in a system where one party is co-opted by powerful interests and the other has been taken over by radical nutjobs, um, who are also co-opted by powerful interests.

I'll leave it to the reader to determine which party is which, but the bottom line is that there are actual differences between individual candidates, despite what Ralph Nader may think. If you don't bother to make an informed choice, then the choices are simply made by those more fanatical than you.

I'd rather waste my vote in a losing battle to support sane policies than just give up. The world may still go to hell in a handbag, but at least I can live with myself.

On a more positive note, I went to the FCC forum in Seattle last night, and was happily surprised (and a little spooked) by the energy in the room. The FCC chair and his fellow Republicans want to further loosen the restraints against media consolidation.

Aside from the 3 FCC Republicans and a handful of industry mouthpieces, every single person in the crowd of 800 and all the speakers opposed further consolidation of media ownership, including governor Greqoire (D), the state attorney general Rob McKenna(R), the state auditor Brian Sonntag, Senator Cantwell (D), Representatives Inslee (D) and Reichert (R), Republican talk-show host and former gubernatorial candidate John Carlson, and Seattle Times owner Frank Blethen.

The governor, the attorney general, and the two Democratic FCC commissioners gave revival-tent impassioned, scolding statements against the plans of the Republican FCC chair, Kevin Martin. The crowd was really angry. It's rare to see a Seattle crowd boo anybody, but they let Martin have it. He looked extremely unhappy and downright nervous. He tried to skip out with a brief comment, as the other Republican commissioner present did, but amid shouts of "Coward!" and "We want to hear what you have to say!" he gave a pathetic defense of his position, and tried to claim that he was just implementing the laws that Congress passed. Which was interesting, considering that several members of Congress had just got done saying that if the FCC does the wrong thing, Congress stands ready to overturn their new rules. Cantwell has a bill ready, co-sponsored by Trent Lott, of all people.

Our democracy isn't hopeless. But it sure takes a lot to rile up the reasonable among us.

Charlene Dewbre, 2007.11.10 (Sat) 19:18 [Link] »

Hey Jason,

The shocking thing is, I agree with you. What we really need is an uprising of caring, committed people who are genuinely angry at what we have allowed to happen.

Why do we tolerate say-nothing congressional representatives? I would love to see us get out of our living rooms and into the meetings where the decisions are being made.

I want debate. I want loud questions and equally fervent answers. During the energy fiasco I went to town halls (I lived in California) and demanded straight answers.

America is an idea and the only thing that can keep it from turning into a cash-and-power driven corporate governance is if we do stand up and tell our politicians that enough is enough.

How many of us know what our Congressional representatives are going to vote on in the next session? How many of us have ever sent an email or made the phone call to our congressional representative to tell them that we do or do not support the bill in question? When is the last time we paid attention to a forthcoming bill and what amendments have been foisted on it?

America is an idea, and decisions really are made by those who show up. I get frustrated because our reps are getting away with murder because we like our loungers and TVs too much. What's it going to take to make us care?

We have a stunning example right now: a President that 30% of the country approves of, who has trampled our constitution, who is very very intelligent (you don't graduate from an Ivy league school if you can't write in complete sentences) yet puts on the good old boy persona and trashes our international relationships to fatten his corporate friends.

What's it going to take to make us care? America is an idea and we're too lazy to turn the light switch back on.

(and that's my rant!)

Jason Spicer, 2007.11.10 (Sat) 19:37 [Link] »

It is astonishing. LBJ couldn't figure out how to get us out of Vietnam, so he didn't run for re-election. Nixon got caught rigging the election and tampering with the judiciary, and several officials resigned rather than fire the special prosecutor investigating him. Ultimately he was hounded from office by an outraged public. Now with an administration that has done so much more damage to America, the country basically yawns. I thoroughly don't get it. It's not like people approve of the administration or are too frightened to speak out. They just don't seem to care.

A democracy if we can keep it, indeed.

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