Fredrick, along with the rest
of his class, was allowed to leave class early to watch the Olympic torch
run by. Fredrick used this occasion to unfurl a banner that could be
interpreted as promoting drug use (it said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus").
The school principal (Morse),
seized the banner and suspended Fredrick.
Fredrick appealed to the
school board, but they upheld the suspension. Fredrick then sued,
claiming that his 1st Amendment right to free speech had been violated.
Morse claimed that the
school had a compelling government interest in fighting drug abuse, and that Fredrick had a lesser degree of
1st Amendment protection while at school.
Fredrick claimed that he
wasn't even on school grounds when he unfurled his banner.
The Trial Court found for
Morse and the school board. Fredrick appealed.
The Trial Court found that Morse
had reasonably interpreted the banner as contravening the school's
policies on drug abuse prevention.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The school appealed.
The Appellate Court looked
to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (393 U.S. 503 (1969)), and found that the
school could not prohibit free speech absent any evidence
that the rule was necessary to avoid substantial interference with school
discipline or the rights of others.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found no violation of Fredrick's 1st Amendment rights.
The US Supreme Court found
that the banner was displayed during a school-supervised event, making
this a "school speech" case rather than a general case of free
Speech in schools, prisons,
and the military has consistently held to be less protected than general
The Court found that the
school had a compelling government interest in prohibiting drug use, and Fredrick's banner could be
considered a form of peer pressure that might increase drug use.
The court distinguished
this from Tinker by saying this
was a case of direct danger to the school, while Tinker's Vietnam War
protest was not a direct danger to the school.
Fredrick's school was
directly affected by drugs, while Tinker's school was not directly
affected by the war.
The Court applied a
balancing test and found that in this case, the school's compelling
government interest was strong enough
to override Fredrick's 1st Amendment rights.