The First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District was a Supreme Court case that is still used today to determine whether a student’s first amendment rights were violated during a school punishment. During the Vietnam War, two students planned to wear armbands to school showing their disapproval of the war. The school, fearing commotion, banned the armbands before the students even had a chance to wear them at the school. Mary Beth Tinker, John Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt chose to display their dissatisfaction anyway. In consequence for breaking the rules, the students were suspended. The students sued, and the course went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in the Tinker’s favor, saying that public schools can only limit First Amendment rights if there is a substantial disruption. Because there was no substantial disruption the Court ruled that the Tinkers and Mr. Eckhardt could wear their armbands.

Background on Bong Hits 4 Jesus
Basically, a kid, Joseph Frederick, had a poster that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as the Olympic flame went by because he wanted to be on TV. The principal claims the poster violated the schools drug policy and suspended Mr. Frederick. Joseph and the Alaskan Civil Liberties Union sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of Frederick. They supported their decision using the Tinker case.

Joseph Frederick was under the protection of the First Amendment. The message did not cause a disruption, nor did it insult anybody (another characteristic of when your rights can be limited). He should be apologized too, and the suspension taken off his record. For First Amendment rights to be limited, they have to take at test.

• Is it offensive?
• Is it illegal?
• Does it cause a substantial disruption?

Is “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” offensive? Not really. Is it illegal? Holding up a banner is perfectly legal. Did it cause a substantial disruption? No.

The Supreme Court should rule in favor of Frederick. He did not break any school rule nor did he violate the law.

Simmons blogs at Thoughts on the World. Interested readers can e-mail him at

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