Monday, June 25, 2007

Court justices light up with the First Amendment.

That the current president has ever sat in the White House will be a blight that America will take a long time to live down. And it is apparent that one of his worst legacies will be his appointments to the Supreme Court. Today gave us two examples of how the big government agenda is furthered by Bush and his appointees.

Former White House insiders have openly revealed what everyone has known. The so-called “faith based” initiatives were an attempt by Bush to buy off the Religious Right. In addition it was believed that if the White House promised money to African-American churches that their congregations, in gratitude, would flock to the Republicans come election day.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation was challenging this use of taxpayer funds. They are taxpayers. Their tax money is being used to fund religious endeavors. Today the Supreme Court voted to deny the litigants the right to sue. The two justices appointed by King George both voted to deny the litigants standing in the case. It seems that, without the Bush appointments the old court would have ruled the other way. The 5 to 4 decision was a victory for the move toward state funding of religious efforts and denied voters the right to challenge an unconstitutional use of their funds.

A second ruling today also attacked free speech rights, also protected by the First Amendment. In 2002 students in Juneau, Alaska were let out of school to attend an Olympic torch rally. Senior Joseph Frederick went to the rally as well, straight from home. He was not at school that day. The rally was held in public and not on school property.

Frederick had a banner which was intended to be funny. No doubt to high school students it was. It said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. Principal Deborah Morris had the poster vandalized under her orders and then suspended Frederick from attending school for 10 days because she argued he was expressing a view contrary to the official “war on drugs” viewpoint. In state schools free speech rights are obviously limited although they are not entirely lost either. But Frederick was not in school. Nor was even on the same side of the street as the school. He was across the street.

Both Bush appointees ruled against the First Amendment for students off school property especially if those students are giving messages which appear to deny the drug hysteria fostered by the US government. Chief Censor John Roberts argued that that the banner “promoted illegal drug use -- and that failing to act [the principal having the sign vandalized] would send a power message to the students in her charge.”

Roberts, was joined by Bush appointee Samuel Alito, in this ruling, giving it a 6 to 3 majority. Justice Stevens, in keeping with the First Amendment said: “This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message.”

Justice Clarence Thomas took the position that students have no First Amendment rights at all! He said that two centuries ago “teachers taught, and students listened. Teachers commanded, and students obeyed. Teachers did not rely solely on the power of ideas to persuade; they relied on discipline to maintain order.” Sounds like the Maoist Red Guard! Thomas’ argument, if you want to call it that, is that if a right was ignored 200 years ago then you can’t claim it as a right today no matter what the Constitution actually says. Under that sort of logic he’d be out picking cotton not sitting on the Supreme Court.

Frederick said he was not “promoting drugs, I assume most people would take it as a joke.”

What is no joke is that a principal vandalized private property on a pubic sidewalk and got away with it. And the real message is the one sent by the Bush appointees that they are willing to turn their back on certain Constitutional rights when said rights conflict with a US government crusade.

The censors on the Court argued that the event was actually a school event since students were allowed out for it and were standing with their teachers in front of the school. But Frederick was on the opposite side of the street, was not with teachers and had not been in class that day. The court ruled that a principal can “restrict student speech at a school event” apparently even for students across the street from the event. The court gave no indication how far away from the “event” the student must be before Constitutional rights kick in.

The Court also made it clear that speech that is pro-drug is now on par with obscene speech. “Student speech celebrating illegal drug use at a school event, in the presence of school administrators and teachers, poses a particular challenge for school officials working to protect those entrusted to their care.... the government interest in stopping student drug abuse allow schools to restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as promoting such abuse.”

This calls into question the right of students to even question the absurdity of the war on drugs. Justice Souter in his dissent said that this decision “invites stark viewpoint discrimination” and “is deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students, about the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.” “If Frederick's stupid reference to marijuana can, in the Court's view, justify censorship, then high school students everywhere could be forgiven for zipping their mouths about drugs at school lest some ‘reasonable’ observer censor and then punish them for promoting drugs.”

Souter notes:
While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was [during Prohibition] condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans' views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930's was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana, and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product, lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting--however inarticulately--that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.
In conclusion he said, “Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular.”

I don’t know what the Justices were smoking before they invented this “drug” exception to free speech for students. But it seems to me that they were using the Bill of Rights for rolling paper. It burns really well.

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