Tinker V Des Moines and Frederick V Morse: Fighting for Freedom of Speech

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The Freedom of Speech, a promise so promising that ensures “Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech,” unless, of course, it is proven to be a harm to others. So where exactly is the line drawn, and who decides which speech does or doesn’t get to be protected? It is often contingent upon each case which has been shown by the different array of verdicts in cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines, where students were allowed to wear black armbands to school to protest a war, United States v. O’Brien, where it was determined that punishment for burning a draft card did not violate free speech, and Cohen v. California, where the use of offensive words to convey a political message was permitted. One contributing factor to the permittance of censorship, that has led to outcomes for cases such as the “Bong Hits for Jesus” case, is school.

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What makes middle and high school different from college where the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner would have surely made the professors laugh along, is the children whose minds are still in the process of development. The reason why the banner stirred such a response from the principal was because while Fredrick and his friends were trying to make a joke, they unintentionally promoted drug usage in front of other students. Fredrick reported to have “seen the phrase on a snowboard sticker and thought it was humorous,” who in return, exposed the message to his friends, who in return, revealed the message to their classmates, who in return, had Fredrick and his friends not have been punished, would have spread the message to other classmates, dismissing the seriousness of drug usage.

The Principal of Juneau-Douglas High School was right to suspend Fredrick and his friends because it sent a message to students that drugs are no joke, and will make students think twice about joking about drugs. At an age of exploration, teeagers are more likely to use drugs which is why it is essential to teach them that drugs are something that they need to stay away from. Some people argue that Fredricks rights were violated because he did not go to school that morning, and was off school grounds, but it’s important to remember that as a student of Juneau-Douglas High School who intended to go to school even though he was late, and who would not have watched the Olympic torch get passed if the school didn’t sanction the event (unless he skipped school which in that case would not have affected other students), the school had every right to hold him responsible for his actions at the school sanctioned event which he knowingly attended. People also argue that this censorship will lead to more censorship from what the principal may interpret as promotion of drug use which is too far fetched of a claim because Principal Morse, unless she does this in the future, cannot be held accountable for “what if’s.”

Frederick’s first amendment rights were not more important than the anti-drug policy because the damage done from drug promotion to the youth, not to say this event will have students rushing to buy bongs, during times like the 80’s and 90’s destroyed many lives including our favorite celebrities and athletes. Although the principal was not wrong for punishing Fredrick, she could’ve done a better job at explaining why he was punished and the effects of making jokes out of serious issues which probably wouldn’t have landed her in court. Morses’ efforts, although too forward, were done in an intent to save her student from a life of misery.  

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