June 27, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 9:00 PM GMT
Joe Frederick and friends in Juneau in Jan. 2002..
Gov. M. Jodi Rell expressed legitimate concern about the medicinal marijuana bill's lack of a distribution apparatus, yet her veto demonstrated her inability to lead, considering that in some polls, 83 percent of the people hold that certain types of ill persons should be able to use marijuana.
Rather than suggest a solution that people obviously want, Gov. Rell went against the will of the people, and those who suffer from AIDS wasting syndrome, cancer or a host of other illness remain criminals as they attempt to appropriate their medicine, which is better than most pharmaceuticals.
Now if a high school student brings the above two paragraphs to school and distributes them, that child may now be punished by school authorities, thanks to the ruling handed down by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Monday afternoon in the Frederick v. Morse student free speech case from Alaska.
"We hold that schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use," Roberts wrote.
In his decision, Roberts declared that in Jan. 2002, then high school senior Joe Frederick was technically within the school's authoritarian grasp when he stood across the street, on private property, and hoisted the absurd banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."
As one of my law professors noted, the Court admitted the slogan was nonsensical, but then gave it the weight of a pro-drug message. Which is it? A dadaism or a doobie-ism?
The decision, lost in a 5-4 vote, has many major consequences, the worst of which broaden the school's disciplinary reach to off-school grounds and tell a generation of students that logical scientific inquiry, when couched in the context of the war on drugs, may not be acceptable.
Would research papers on Ken Kesey's acid tests be unlawful, subject to failing grades? What if a student of voting age decided to circulate a petition against Gov. Rell's veto of the med-weed bill? Would that student be subject to sanction for advocating a position that illegal drug use may be good? It seems so to both.
The last Court case on high school free speech in 1988, Hazelwood, had disastrous consequences for the student press, and this one promises far-reaching and damaging results to academic inquiry and free thought. The Court mustn't wait 20 years to remedy this, but I fear it may.
The Roberts court, while on some levels seen as striving for unanimity of opinion, should merely be seen as a continuation of the Bush Administration's push to frighten the bejeezus out of students, and to condition adolescents and the rest of America into civic docility and acceptance of whatever the government wants to push down their throats.
Remember after Sept. 11, Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer saying "Americans have to watch what they say." The Frederick v. Morse opinion sends the same message to teenagers.
Consider the other three decisions of the Court from Monday, one which broadens the rights of corporations to spend money on political campaign speech, another which restricts the rights of taxpayers to challenge faith-based charity initiatives, and a third which went against environmentalists.
For further measure, throw in the disturbing report from the Washington Post about the imperial presidency of Vice President Dick Cheney, whose penchant for secrecy and consolidation of power seemingly rivals that of banana republic despots.
Cheney has claimed that the office of the vice president is a new branch of government, neither legislative (despite his role as president of the senate), nor executive (despite being a heartbeat away from the presidency, and as other commentators have pointed out, despite having invoked executive privilege to keep energy task force documents secret).
The Veep keeps his daily work in a refrigerator-sized safe, and takes great measure to shield taxpayer funded policy decisions like those made in the war without end from the taxpayer.
All of this - from Gov. Rell's veto to Roberts' twisted logic to Cheney's predisposition towards totalitarianism - leads us back to the fundamental question: is the American identity, once synonymous with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness being subjugated and molded into one of death, conformity, and the disregard for dignity?