Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held, 5–4, that the First Amendment does not prevent educators from suppressing, at or across the street from a school-supervised event, student speech that is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
In 2002, Juneau-Douglas High School principal Deborah Morse suspended Joseph Frederick after he displayed a banner reading "BONG HiTS [sic] 4 JESUS" across the street from the school during the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay. Frederick sued, claiming his constitutional rights to free speech were violated. His suit was dismissed by the federal district court, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Frederick's speech rights were violated.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, concluded that the school officials did not violate the First Amendment. To do so, he made three legal determinations: first, that "school speech" doctrine should apply because Frederick's speech occurred "at a school event"; second, that the speech was "reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use"; and third, that a principal may legally restrict that speech—based on the three existing First Amendment school speech precedents, other Constitutional jurisprudence relating to schools, and a school's "important—indeed, perhaps compelling interest" in deterring drug use by students.
One scholar noted that "by its plain language, Morse's holding is narrow in that it expressly applies only to student speech promoting illegal drug use." She adds, however, that courts could nonetheless apply it to other student speech that, like speech encouraging illegal drug use, similarly undermines schools' educational missions or threatens students' safety. "Further, Morse arguably permits viewpoint discrimination of purely political speech whenever that speech mentions illegal drugs—a result seemingly at odds with the First Amendment."
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