More on the “Bong Hits” case

March 22, 2007

(Follow-up to this.)

In oral argument Alito came out sounding relatively sympathetic to the student, and Kennedy more sympathetic to the school. One remark by Kennedy got to me. It has been accepted that a school can punish “disruptive” student speech. Kennedy took that to include “disruptive of the school’s message.” I think to justify abridgement of free speech, “disruptive” should mean, well, disruptive. Physically, tangibly, preventing teachers or other students from being heard. Jumping up and down and yelling during class. That sort of thing. If merely expressing a contrary opinion in an orderly manner is “disruptive,” there is no end to what can be prohibited.

The school has a right to convey a message but not to prevent students from disagreeing. They are targets of the message, not agents of the school in disseminating it.

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