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Christians & Gays vs. Bush & DARE over Bong Hits 4 Jesus. My kinda case!

On one side we’ve got:

The gay rights activist LAMBDA Legal Defense Fund and Christian advocacy group Christian Legal Society and the ACLU

versus

The Bush Administration and former “Clinton Impeachment: The Blow-Job Lie” prosecutor Ken Starr and the National Association of School Boards…

And between them, one Alaskan high school student, the Olympic Torch, and a large white banner that read:

BONG HITS 4 JESUSOK, here’s the deal.  In 2002, the Olympic Torch Relay* was coming through Juneau, Alaska.  The high school let the kids attend the relay, which was not on school grounds.  As TV cameras rolled, Joseph Frederick, 18, unfurled a large white banner that said “BONG HITS 4 JESUS”.  The school principal stormed over and told him to take it down.  He refused.  She tore it down and later suspended him for ten days.  He sued.

Now it’s at the Supreme Court.  And in the strangest case of political bedfellows I’ve seen, you’ve got Christian legal groups defending the kid who advocated getting Jesus Christ baked, you’ve got the gay rights advocates siding with the Christian legal groups who fight in other cases for the right to preach anti-gay hate, and you’ve got George W. Bush taking a position counter to that of the Religious Right, as noted by the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, March 17 – A Supreme Court case about the free-speech rights of high school students, to be argued on Monday, has opened an unexpected fissure between the Bush administration and its usual allies on the religious right.
[…]
The briefs from the conservative religious organizations depict the school environment as an ideological battleground. The Christian Legal Society asserts that its law school chapters “have endured a relentless assault by law schools intolerant of their unpopular perspective on the morality of homosexual conduct or the relevance of religious belief.”

The American Center for Law and Justice brief, filed by its chief counsel, Jay Alan Sekulow, warns that public schools “face a constant temptation to impose a suffocating blanket of political correctness upon the educational atmosphere.”

So what has LAMBDA Legal on the same side as these organizations, whose interest in the case is to preserve their right to have student organizations that can preach anti-gay hate in the public schools while hiding behind Leviticus 18:22 and claiming religious bigotry?  (Special hat tip and excellent detail and links on the case at Pete Guither’s DrugWarRant)

Lambda Legal has brought numerous cases to vindicate the free expression rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (“LGBT”) students, teachers and administrators, as well as their allies, under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.  As part of this work, Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of students to form gay-straight alliances and to express LGBT perspective on curricular subjects in the public schools.

Lambda Legal is concerned that school officials may be given unfettered authority to silence student views that the school does not favor, when the expression of those views does not materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or with the rights of other students.

So, the enemy of my enemy is my friend in this case.  Both Lambda and the Christians fear a pro-administration ruling in this case could set precedents for the state to squelch their student groups’ free speech rights.  (That the Christians are forced to defend the proponent of Jesus on the chronic is just a special bonus irony for people like me.)

The Bush Administration must never allow the Ninth Ciruit’s decision to stand.  They affirmed Frederick’s right to proclaim “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as free speech.  That doesn’t sit well with the “Just Say No” crowd and groups like D.A.R.E.  But the Ninth Circuit decision is easily defensible: Frederick was 18, not a minor.  He was off school grounds and the event was not a school event.  And in a special twist, Alaska’s Constitution has an explicit right to privacy that affords all adults protection against prosecution for small personal amounts of marijuana.  This helps Frederick’s case in that they can’t claim he was advocating “illegal” use of marijuana.

It’s a case with an interesting backstory.  Back in the Vietnam War era, the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines… found that kids wearing black armbands to protest the war had the free speech right to do so.  “Students do not check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door” is the famous quote from the majority opinion.

Since then, two cases set some restrictions on student speech.  Hazelwood School District allowed administrators to control speech at school sanctioned events (like yearbook, pep rallies, student newspapers) and Bethel School District found that administrators could generally restrict sexually vulgar or lewd speech.

The student awareness of the idiocy of the War on (Unpopular) Drugs is growing and the government propagandists are nervous about the effect this case may have.  Student groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy, led by tireless activists like my friend and ally Kris Krane, are gaining traction among what he calls “the DARE generation.”  Evidence has shown that government anti-drug programs like “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E. have been wholly ineffective:

In summary, thus far there is relatively little evidence for effects of the Campaign on youth. While there are scattered positive results, they are balanced by scattered negative results. There are some anomalies in the evidence presented that are suggestive in one way or another. However, once one steps back and examines the entire evidence base, it is hard to be confident that any of these results are reliable.

Thus far there is little evidence of direct Campaign effects on youth. There is no statistically significant change in marijuana use or in beliefs and attitudes about marijuana use, and no tendency for those reporting more exposure to Campaign messages to hold more desirable beliefs

So it is in the government’s best interest to squelch any sort of drug law reform message, any sort of message that might tell students more truthful information about drugs, and to eliminate the increasingly popular student groups that are forming around this issue.  (Having Ken Starr prosecute the case is just a special bonus irony for people like me.)

I predict that since Frederick has the more legally defensible case, since the lower courts have all sided with Frederick, and since the right of free speech is so fundamental to American liberty…

…the Supreme Court will side with the government.  C’mon, it’s marijuana.  They’ll wink to the fundies and say, “don’t worry, you can still preach the abomination stuff.”  Just you watch.  There is always the Drug War exception to reason and logic.

* Fun “Radical” Russ fact: my sister-in-law ran that torch through my hometown of Nampa, Idaho.  For about eight blocks.

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