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'Bong Hits' tests free speech

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Google "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," and links to 923,000 pages discussing the landmark Supreme Court case pop up. At the bottom of the second page is a game that promises to educate high school students about their rights to free speech.

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus The Game" is inspired by the speech debate that erupted around Joseph Frederic's suit against Deborah Morse, Juneau-Douglas High School principal at the time, and the Juneau School District on his claims they violated his civil rights.

The game was commissioned by Students For a Sensible Drug Policy after the Supreme Court ruling favored Morse and the school district last June.

Web links:

* Bong Hits 4 Jesus The Game: http://daregeneration.blogspot.com/2007/06/bong-hits-4-jesus-game.html.

* Supreme Court decision: www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/06-278.pdf.

Kris Krane, national director of Students For a Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, D.C., said the game is a creative way to educate high school students on their speech rights.

Each player is a school principal who must decide whether or not suspension is called for with each banner presented. A player could wrongfully suspend a student or wrongfully allow an unprotected banner.

"You decide if you're going to punish the student," Krane said. "They (The Supreme Court) didn't say a principal had to punish a student."

"I did pretty well," Eric Gross, Juneau-Douglas High School junior, said.

Gross read the background on Frederick's student speech case before eventually making the wrong decision on four of the 23 banners to choose from while playing the game.

"There are some times it was unclear what to do," He said.

Krane said the game was designed to make some of the decisions harder in order to express the difficulty regulating speech.

As Gross played the game, he found banners promoting use of illicit drugs such as LSD clearly were unprotected "pro-drug speech" and should be banned. Other banners promoting things such as medical marijuana were clearly protected speech. Between the clear-cut cases were intellectually fuzzy answers.

"They were difficult because I had nothing to base it off," Gross said.

The messages presented on several of the game's banners exist in the gray area left behind after the Supreme court ruling.

"They would make interesting follow-up cases," Krane said.

Gross' score left him with a "very low probability" of being sued, another rating in the game. His performance equaled that of many of the players in the American Civil Liberties Union's Anchorage office.

Attorneys there made the wrong decision on two to four banners when they played the game, according to Jason Brandeis, ACLU co-council for the Bong Hits Case.

The game does a good job of illustrating the difficult issues the court left behind, he said. Doug Mertz, lead attorney on the Bong Hits case, said he got two wrong while playing the game.

Even with the less obvious banners, Gross said he came away from the game knowing more about his rights to speak as a student.

"I learned what we can and cannot say about drugs at school," he said.

Among all the ways to educate students, the game is useful and also enjoyable, Mertz said. The nature of it might draw kids to play the game and learn the line between protected and nonprotected speech, he said.

"Public officials and educators might try it, too," Mertz said.

David Crosby, attorney for the Juneau School District, said he had not played "Bong Hits 4 Jesus The Game."

Crosby alluded to the real court case and said, "We're all playing the game." He believes the ACLU is pushing the real "game" until another drug case arrives before the Supreme Court.

"That game is costing a lot of money and keeping people from doing what they're supposed to be doing, which is educating kids," Crosby said.

Though an average American adult can go through their day with "Shoot heroin not cops" printed on their T-shirt, a Juneau high school student can not.

Overall, Gross is OK with the fact he and fellow students have a lesser right to speak freely at school, a sentiment echoed by Justice Clarence Thomas' opinion that students have no civil rights al all.

Gross said that school district policies can be too extreme. He offered the current ban on Alaskan Amber sweatshirts as an example.

"There is a middle ground."



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