Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the First Amendment allows public schools to prohibit students from displaying messages that allegedly promote the use of illegal substances at so-called school-sponsored events. Whether the Ninth Circuit departed from established principles of qualified immunity in holding that a public high school principal was liable in a damages lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. _ 1983 when, pursuant to the school districts policy against displaying messages promoting illegal substances, she disciplined a student for displaying a large banner with a slang marijuana reference at a school-sponsored, faculty-supervised event.


Reversed and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.


Student Joseph Frederick held up a sign that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a school-sponsored event. Deborah Morse, the school's principal, took Frederick's sign and suspended him for 10 days. The Ninth Circuit held that Frederick's speech was protected under the First Amendment because it did not cause a disturbance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that public school officials can prohibit students from promoting illegal drug use and can punish those who do.

Importance of Case

Although the decision affirmed that students have First Amendment rights in schools, those rights may be limited in particular instances.

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