Pages Navigation Menu

Introduction to Morse v Frederick lessons


sprclogoby Peter Barringer
Students’ First Amendment rights were explicitly established through the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case in 1969, and those rights have only diminished since. The amount of literature relating to the courts’ applications of Morse is even more abundant, but cogent analysis and quality teaching resources related to these cases are difficult to find.This project, a set of unit plans and ancillary materials for journalism classes, is meant to help advisers and student journalists clarify how the courts have interpreted Morse v. Frederick, the most recent landmark Supreme Court case related to students’ freedom of expression.

[pullquote]Peter Barringer is a teacher from Evansville, Indiana. He holds a BS in English Education from the University of Evansville and an MJE from Kent State University. Peter enjoys reading, playing guitar, and playing board games in his spare time. You can contact him at[/pullquote]

Scope and sequence

Before you begin working through this document, I’d first like to thank you for trying this unit in your classroom.  This unit’s main emphasis is on customization because every media program is different.  You may find that all the activities in these units are applicable to your media program, or you may find them none of them are applicable.  Above all, make sure each aspect of your lesson is relevant to your staff.

Just as importantly, this unit can only improve if I receive feedback from teachers who try it in their classrooms.  Please email me at with any feedback, including (but not limited to):

  • Timing of the activities
  • Relevance of the activities
  • Suggestions for improvement regarding the topics
  • Better videos, handouts, or other materials

You can also use the Feedback form

To continue with the Scope and Sequence, go here.

Instructor’s background info

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.

The teaching units
Five-day unit

Three-day unit

Two-day unit

One-day unit

Ancillary materials (contains all lesson pieces)




Leave a Comment