School principals may punish students for displaying signs that favor the use of illegal drugs, the Supreme Court said yesterday in a decision limiting the free-speech rights of students, reports the Los Angeles Times. The 5-4 ruling rejected a free-speech claim from a former high school student in Juneau, Alaska, who was suspended for unfurling a banner outside school that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Student Joseph Frederick, hoped to show up on local television news because the Olympic torch parade was pass by. Instead, he got a 10-day suspension.
The court majority sided with the school but said it would have come to a different conclusion if the banner had carried a political or social message. Chief Justice John Roberts said it was reasonable for the principal “to conclude the banner promoted illegal drug use – in violation of established school policy – and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge.” Dissenter John Paul Stevens called the bong hits sign a “nonsense banner” and said “the court does serious violence to the 1st Amendment in upholding – indeed, lauding – a school’s decision to punish Frederick for expressing a view with which it disagreed.”