Good Morning, Children: School Board Über Alles!

When did the world go absolutely bat-shit insane? When did reason become instinct? More importantly, when will a rescue ship arrive from my home world and get me the hell out of this loony bin that is planet Earth?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when I read the news, but nevertheless, I still find myself frequently astonished at the commonplace madness that pervades our world. I realize the world has probably always been this screwed up, I just hear about more of it more often, thanks to the Interwebs. But … well, damn, this latest case in point lies close to home. Since when does the U.S. [tag]Supreme Court[/tag] have to concern itself with the case of a some smartass kid displaying a “[tag]Bong Hits 4 Jesus[/tag]” banner for television cameras as the Olympic torch passed through Juneau, Alaska while on a school field trip? Being a journalist, [tag]First Amendment[/tag] issues are near and dear to my heart, and on one hand, I can’t believe that this issue has gotten to the Supreme Court – I thought, after all, that we were born with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the [tag]Bill of Rights[/tag], as American citizens. This kid may have been at a school-sanctioned event (in this case, the observance of the torch’s passing along a public route), but he wasn’t on school property, so school administrators should not have been able to curtail his speech.

I would argue that even had they been on school grounds, if it’s a public school, provided it doesn’t disrupt the educational process, it should be allowed. As the Associated Press article noted, in the Vietnam Era the court ruled that high school students had the right to wear armbands to class, in protest of the war. However, in subsequent cases, the court has ruled against students’ right to free speech in cases where said speech is disruptive to a school’s educational mission, plainly offensive or part of a school-sponsored activity like a student newspaper. I agree with the “disruptive to the school’s educational mission” interpretations, as this begins to infringe on other students’ rights to an education. As for the other interpretations, I think there is some gray area (who determines what is offensive is a thorny issue, naturally), but I’ll save that for some other time.

At the risk of repeating myself, I just can’t believe that this case, given the circumstances, has gone as far as the Supreme Court. What is further astonishing is that Justice [tag]Breyer[/tag] is wrestling with this issue, as he proved himself off his judicial rocker in [tag]Kelo v. New London[/tag]. This was the case a couple years ago in which a 5-4 majority on the court ruled that a municipality has the legal ability to declare eminent domain and seize privately-held homes to support private business development. Given the way the Supreme Court has ruled on free speech issues in recent years, especially those involving public school students, I’m surprised that Breyer is torn on this issue; guess maybe his head slipped out a centimeter or two from between his glutes since Kelo v. New London.

What kind of message does this send to our youth? That you are second class citizens? That the rights we are supposedly guaranteed as citizens, the rights that so many have fought and died for – and are supposedly dieing for right now – are conditional? Conditional not because they could infringe the rights of others, but because the exercise of those rights somehow questions authority — arguable the whole pretext on which this country was founded? It makes me pig-biting mad that an 18-year-old high school student has to register with Selective Service, but could have his right to free speech curtailed – a right he could be called upon to defend with his life.

On the other hand, everyone involved in this silly fiasco fell right into this smartass kid’s hands. He admits that he did this to bait his school’s administrators, and like mindless, predictable automatons, they took the proffered bait. And this whole business has played out even better than the kid imagined: a smartass prank has turned into a first-amendment ruling before the U.S. Supreme Court, and regardless of how the court rules, Joseph Frederick gets his 15 minutes of fame, and becomes a footnote in U.S. legal history. I can’t really fault the kid; this is what kids do, and I was certainly no exception, although I never managed to get involved in setting legal precedent (probably came close a few times, though, before I graduated). If the school’s administrators had just ignored it, none of this would have happened; poor Justice Breyer wouldn’t be hung up on the horns of dilemma. Everyone on the Morse side of [tag]Morse v. Frederick[/tag] is a big-ass chump. What’s more, they are Frederick’s chump. First Amendment issues aside, all any of this does is reward his admittedly silly but harmless behavior.

But for good or ill, this is now a First Amendment case before the Supreme Court. I don’t know who to think ill of more, the smartass kid for giving those that would take our rights away from us one more chance to whittle down the First Amendment a little more , or all of the so-called adults that have indulged him in his admitted bid to get a rise out of them, wasting tax dollars and the judicial system’s resources in the process. Speaking to the former: dude, couldn’t you have just toilet papered Morse’s house? And speaking of the latter, I was amused to no end to see that Kenneth Starr is Morse’s lawyer. And that he wears a black cowboy hat. A picture worth a thousand words, right there. Everybody loves a clown.

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