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Instructor’s background:
The Morse Decision (2007)

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The Morse Decision (2007)

In 2002, a high school in Juneau, Alaska, allowed its students to leave class to watch the Olympic Torch Relay as it proceeded in front of the school building (Kozlowski et al., 2009).  Kozlowski et al. (2009) stated that during the ceremony, student Joseph Frederick displayed a large banner proclaiming, “BONG HiTS [sic] 4 JESUS” (pg. 140).  The principal of the school forced Frederick to remove the banner, and later suspended him for ten days (Kozlowski et al., 2009).  Frederick believed his First Amendment rights were being violated, so he sued the principal, winning at the Court of Appeals level before the Supreme Court reversed the decision (Kozlowski et al., 2009).

Some may read the words “Bong HiTS 4 JESUS” and fail to distinguish any real message promoting drug use, but the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling saw it differently.  The scholarly literature has concluded that the Morse decision created a third exception to the Tinker ruling: speech encouraging illegal drug use (Kozlowski, 2011; Azriel, 2008; Kozlowski et al., 2009).  The Morse case is certainly the fourth landmark Supreme Court ruling related to students’ free expression rights.  However, interestingly, the Morse case itself is not quite as significant to the scholarly literature as the manner in which its precedent has been applied in the seven years since.

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