WASHINGTON–LAWFUEL – Law News, Law Jobs –The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), specializing in constitutional law, today asked the Supreme Court of the United States to protect the free speech rights of students to express their views on controversial topics that may be deemed unacceptable to a school district.
“This is an extremely poor test case that should not even be considered by the Supreme Court,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “We strongly disagree with the student’s message in the case but believe there is a much broader constitutional principle at stake here – protecting the First Amendment rights of students to express themselves – especially if the school district considers the message offensive. Even though the Supreme Court has decided to hear this case, we argue it should revisit that decision and reject this case. But if it does not, then the high court should let the lower court decision stand which protects the constitutional rights of students to exercise their free speech rights. A decision to ban the student’s controversial speech would set a dangerous precedent and open the door for school districts to prohibit student speech that it considers offensive – speech in the future that could advocate a pro-family or pro-life message.”
In December, the Supreme Court decided to take a case out of Alaska where a school district suspended a student for displaying a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” – which the school contends advocates marijuana use. The student admits the banner was displayed for one reason – to attract media attention during a parade when the Olympic torch passed through Juneau in 2002 on its way to Salt Lake City. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the student and the school district asked the Supreme Court to take the appeal.
In its friend-of-the-court brief filed today at the high court, the ACLJ makes several arguments. First, the high court should change its mind and reject this case by dismissing the Writ of Certiorari it granted in December when it decided to take the case. “This is a poor test case for student free speech,” the brief argues. “Given the ready availability of other vehicles to address the important issues at stake, this Court should dismiss the present writ as improvidently granted.”
Second, if the high court does decide to hear arguments in this case, it should protect the free speech rights of students. The brief asserts: “The school district has engaged in blatant viewpoint-based censorship of student speech . . . A school’s basic educational mission does not confer blanket authorization for viewpoint suppression of student speech.” In addition, the brief argues: “It would be regrettable if the Court were to resolve the important questions of constitutional law at issue here in the context of a jokester’s prank, rather than a student’s bearing of a serious message.”
“While we strongly disagree with the message displayed in this case, it would be wrong to permit school districts to arbitrarily decide what’s offensive and off limits,” said Sekulow. “In the future, that could put all student speech at risk – including speech that advocates Christian beliefs on any issue – including abortion or marriage.”
The case is Morse v. Frederick and is No. 06-278. Oral arguments in this case have been scheduled for February 28, 2007.
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice specializes in constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C. The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.