I have not yet read the opinions in this case, but I have been informed of the decision of the court.
I think the court made the correct decision under the facts as presented.
Because I advocate for the end of cannabis prohibition, it would have been my preference for the decision to go the other way, but of course that would be lending precisely an inference to the banner which Mr. Frederick denies. He says that the banner is meaningless, and if that is so, then how is it also protected speech?
If the banner had said SMOKE CRACK 4 SATAN would that have been acceptable?
Now there are real first amendment concerns if this speech were prohibited outright, but it has to be taken as meaningful speech in order to even be addressed as such. Speech can be regulated in some places, none of my readers would (I hope) advocate that people have a right to put up SMOKE CRACK 4 SATAN signs in public schools.
So we can’t even get to the meat of it as far as content restrictions may go, because the sign purportedly has no content.
But Mr. Frederick was an adult, and he had the right to display even a nonsense sign if he chose, and the school principal had no authority over him whatsoever unless he voluntarily remained enrolled in the public school.
I concur in the decision of the court, on my own reasoning above.
I would point out that students have been protected in their political and religious speech. Therefore, the following two banners would presumably pass constitutional muster as protected first amendment speech:
END CANNABIS PROHIBITION
JESUS SMOKED POT
Update: “Bong Hits for Jesus” seems like a good subject for a song.
Update 2: Would you believe it started as a song?
Update 3: Chris Weigant in the Huffington Post (hat-tip Lindsay Beyerstein):
In reading today’s Supreme Court’s decision on Morse v. Frederick, the case of the student in Juneau, Alaska, who unfurled a banner reading “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” and was subsequently suspended (you can read the story here or at the Washington Post to get the details of the case), one conclusion is crystal-clear: Kids, if you’re going to unfurl such a banner in an effort to get on national television, make sure that you state your case as: ‘LEGALIZE BONG HiTS 4 JESUS’.” Because then the First Amendment will protect you.
I think the real lesson here is to defend your speech. Don’t pretend you didn’t mean something by it, or you’ll never get anywhere. BONG HiTS 4 JESUS was perfectly capable of defense on first amendment religious grounds, but I doubt that Mr. Frederick understood that; at any rate he was unwilling to stand behind the words themselves at all after the sign was taken from him.
Update 4: If I seem harsh towards Joe Frederick, I actually think he did good. Sometimes not winning is as good as winning. We’re discussing BONG HiTS 4 JESUS, aren’t we?
Pete Guither has some more thoughts along these lines, though I gather he thinks the court got it wrong altogether.