Term Paper: Freedom of Speech Morse v. Frederick

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Freedom of Speech

Morse v. Frederick - Freedom of Speech

The issue of freedom of speech has very often been misunderstood and misinterpreted by American citizens who believe they can say anything they want or print anything they want in any contest. But as the case of Morse v. Frederick points out, there are limits to what can be stated, where, and when something could be considered to be out of bounds as far as the Constitution is concerned.

On the surface, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Morse v. Frederick simply defines and tightens the legal interpretation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and finds that school-age kids can't display signs (even if in jest, or through parody) that appear to advocate the use of illegal drugs. On a broader level, a political level, the decision shows those members of the public who are paying attention to what happens in Washington, D.C., that the Bush Administration has delivered to its constituents in its conservative base just what it promised - a far more conservative Court; many observers are wondering - and it is an entirely relevant question to pose - as to how soon (or if) the Bush/Roberts Court will amend or wholly abolish the decision in Roe v. Wade.

Case Brief - Facts of the Case

Morse et al. v. Frederic (Argued March 19, 2007; Decided June 25, 2007)

Facts: A high school student in Alaska unfurled a banner that read "BONG HITS 4 JESUS"; it was a prank during a school recess to observe the passing of the Olympic torch in Alaska.

The student was trying to get on TV; the principal suspended the student contending that the student was advocating illegal drug usage.

The student (Frederick) claimed (and the 9th Circuit Court agreed) that he was punished unjustly because the school had not demonstrated that his "speech" "threatened substantial disruption" (Bench Opinion, Supreme Court).

Statute at issue: Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment

Legal question for Court: Did Frederick have a First Amendment right to "wield his banner" - no matter that it appeared to advocate a controversial issue?

The outcome: the Court ruled against Frederick, on a 5-4 decision.

Majority ruling written by Justice Roberts: The Court agreed with high school principal

Morse, that first, the banner appeared to be pro-drug, and hence in violation of school policy (Roberts cited Guiles v. Marineau in which a middle school student was suspended for wearing a t-shirt with pro-drug and anti-Bush messages); and second, 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, 2007, No. 06-278).

Legal doctrine: this is a significant case because school districts in the future will assume that they can take action against certain questionable student activities - during which students may claim "free speech" - based on this interpretation of the Constitution by the Court. Roberts alluded to Hazelwood School Dist. V. Kuhlmeier in contending that rights of students "must be 'applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment" (Roberts, 2007).

Other opinions: Justice Souter asked, "What would be disorderly" about unfurling a banner with a silly statement on it? "I don't see what [the banner] disrupts, unless disruption simply means any statement of disagreement with a position officially adopted by the school" (the Rutherford Institute, 2007). Justice Ginsburg: If the sign had said "BONG STINKS for JESUS" and the school principal had the identical reaction, "...that this was demeaning to the Olympics and it was unruly conduct," would that act then be "...a protected right under Tinker because the message was not promoting drugs?"

Key Decisions in this area

This case is based on the Civil Liberties of citizens as spelled out in the First Amendment of the Constitution - the Free Speech Clause.

On page 475 of Epstein & Walker's text, the authors point out that Americans regard the Bill of Rights as "an enumeration of our most cherished freedoms," and that includes the "right to speak freely..." But what exactly does the Constitution mean by "speak freely"? That is ultimately the job of the Supreme Court. 1) Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist (1969) (393 U.S. 503) was a case in which students protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war came… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Freedom of Speech Morse v. Frederick.  (2008, March 25).  Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/freedom-speech-morse-frederick/18363

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"Freedom of Speech Morse v. Frederick."  Essaytown.com.  March 25, 2008.  Accessed July 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/freedom-speech-morse-frederick/18363.