Banner canned; free speech rights at issue

'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' sign at Olympic Torch Relay leads to two JDHS students being suspended

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Two students have been suspended from Juneau-Douglas High School after being in a group that unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as the Olympic torch passed the school last week.

One of the suspended students says his free speech rights were violated when school administrators confiscated the banner and disciplined him. School officials say the banner was displayed during a school activity, thus falling under school control.

Last Thursday, as the torch passed the high school on Glacier Avenue, senior Joseph Frederick and a group of about 20 other students and nonstudents standing across the street from JDHS unfurled a 15-by-3-foot white paper banner with their message emblazoned in duct tape.

High school officials took the banner down and took disciplinary action against some members of the group. Frederick said he and one other student in the group received suspensions; Frederick's was for 10 days.

Frederick said the group displayed the banner - whose content was gleaned from stickers seen on cars and snowboards - to see how people would react and as a test of their First Amendment rights.

"Some people laughed, some people cheered," he said. "Nobody really seemed bothered by it."

Frederick said the group specifically went off school grounds to display the banner. In addition, Frederick said that given the composition of the group and the fact that he had not been in school that morning due to car trouble in the snow, he did not consider the group to be part of a school activity.

"We went across the street, standing with adults and people who don't go to high school," he said.

JDHS Principal Deb Morse said even though the banner was displayed off school grounds, it was removed and the students disciplined because watching the torch relay "was a school activity. It was sanctioned by the school that students could be out (to watch the torch pass)."

Morse said students let out of class lined both sides of Glacier Avenue, and school policy states that discipline enforcement extends to "any school sponsored/sanctioned activity." She also said the disciplinary action taken in this case addressed "more than just the banner."

Frederick said he is unsure about whether he is going to appeal the suspension, but he feels his rights were violated.

"There's no reason that because someone is still in high school that they shouldn't have First Amendment rights," he said.

Morse said the school was within its rights to take action against displaying the banner.

"At school it's a bit different," she said. "There are things that are appropriate and inappropriate, and that was inappropriate."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.



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