Bong Hits for What?

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11 Responses

  1. “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is, among other things, an absurdist juxtaposition. While plenty of institutions such as government, church and school admonish youth not to use drugs, these very same institutions often admonish youth to “get religion” (usually of the Christian sort). The juxtaposition of “bong hits” and “Jesus” at a public event promoting the (supposedly) clean-living Olympics definitely has content.

    Also, what does it matter whether Frederick can clearly articulate some sort of “content” or “rationale” for the banner? We certainly don’t hold artists, writers, or poets to such a standard in order for their work to be protected.


    Matthew Frederick (no relation!)

  2. Kaimi says:


    Weirdly, I think there may actually be some limited content here. There’s a whole segment of modern youth culture that focuses on conspicuous expression of jadedness. This often manifests in slogans that try to be cool, ironic, and detached about subjects that others take very seriously, and of course, Jesus is a prime example. For example, there are shirts that show a hang-gliding Jesus and read, “what *wouldn’t* Jesus do?” (See ).

    Of course, a teenager aiming for jaded irony can’t exactly say that in his court filings, can he?

  3. Kaimi,

    Of course he can say that in his court filings, and he probably should (or should have). Jaded irony is as classically American as Washington Irving, Mark Twain and James Thurber, to name a few off of the top of my head.


  4. 4 Jesus means "for Jesus" says:

    Regardless of the student’s intent, the text of his banner quite obviously criticizes the heartlessness of the Raich decision. It’s essentially politico-religious speech calling for the decriminalization of marijuana for the terminally ill in accordance with the virtue of compassion dictated by the teachings of Christ. It doesn’t advocate Bong Hits 4 Students. It advocates Bong Hits 4 Jesus.

    Promoting compassion and leniency is not inconsistent with the educational mission of a public school.

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    Re: the First Amendment status of barbaric yawps, see Brandt v. Board of Education:

  6. Adam says:

    Barbaric yawps don’t leave people asking what it means. It’s clearly modern art. :)

  7. Howard Wasserman says:

    On an individual liberty/self-fulfillment model for the First Amendment, a barbaric yawp clearly should be protected because it is not about what anyone else understands the speaker to be saying in the development of his own self-actualization/fulfillment.

    In Hurley (the St. Patrick’s Day Parade case), the Court said unanimously that “a narrow, succinctly articulable message is not a condition of constitutional protection.” That would seem to pull a barbaric yawp within the 1st Amendment’s realm.

    Souter in Hurley went on to say that requiring a distinct, articulable message would remove from the realm of the First Amendment Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, the painting of Pollock, and the music of Schonberg. All of that is as readily meaningful as anything Mr. Frederick tried to say. The implication is it all is protected.

    Adam must be right–it is all modern art.

  8. Kaimi says:

    This all makes me think that if I ever get around to starting a band, we’ll call ourselves the Barbaric Yawps. Unless someone has taken that moniker already.

  9. George says:

    Question, in the oral arguments some of the justices were thinking the slogan promoted drug abuse. So if I have that bumper sticker on my car with the slogan, is that probable cause?

    Yes, you can buy the bumper stickers and T-shirts online now.

  10. This has to be a no-brainer, right? I mean, they were not on school property. School was not in session. There are no violations of the Tinker test (harming or threatening the rights of other students or disrupting the business of the school). This has to be a technical exercise … in further mainstreaming interpretation or adjusting application of existing standards. These are, after all, days when justince cannot restrain themselves, and must write separate, concurring opions because they only want to further emphasize a point made in the Opinion of the Cout (as opposed to the more traditional disagreeing with the logic of the Opinion of the Court).


  11. Alex Rosenberg says:

    I think it is highly dangerous to allow a principal to make a subjective and arbitrary decision on whether or not to allow certain types of speech. I mean forget the specific message. This doctrine of the, “educational mission,” can be furthered in future cases to include a penumbra of things that limit students rights. I regret that the message wasn’t more powerful, because that might have helped Frederick’s case. But even so, the rights of students to say anything in public schools is under attack by Justice Thomas, “As originally understood the Constitution doesn’t protect the rights of students to speak freely in public schools.” !