'Bong Hits' ruling doesn't need clarity

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why I believe Phyllis Carlson should not be returned to the Juneau School Board:

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Phyllis Carlson defends appealing the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case to the U.S. Supreme Court because the board needs "clarity" on school administrators' latitude in enforcing school policies (Sept. 25, Juneau Empire). Clarity is exactly what you will find if you read the circuit court ruling in this case. Public school students do not give up their First Amendment right to free speech when they are at school, and have a right to express views that dissent with school policy, as long as such expression is not disruptive. This is well-established precedent. In this particular case, displaying a sign with the ambiguous message "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a Coca-Cola sponsored Olympic torch relay held on the street outside the school was not disruptive to the school program, even if it might be construed as being at odds with the school's anti-drug message.

The beauty of our system is that people - including high school students - have a right to express disagreement with the policies of our government and of our schools. So rather than looking for ways to justify a school administrator's misguided actions in squelching a student's free-speech rights, perhaps the school board could spend that energy on counseling their school administrators on respect for individual rights and the notion that a free flow of competing ideas should be encouraged as a part of the educational process. Is the school's anti-drug message so fragile that it can't compete with "Bong Hits 4 Jesus?"

We need school board members who understand and support the basic principles of our democracy.

Nick Lyons


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