Monday, June 25, 2007

No Rights 4 Students

The policy of prohibition in the United States, for all its faults, has become a valuable filter for determining whether a person is or is not concerned with the state of civil liberties.

We hear so much from the left about how war and security policies are destructive to social freedom, and so much from the right about how economic depression is used as an excuse to curtail the economic liberties once enjoyed by US citizens, but far too little, in my estimation, about the extent to which the 'war on drugs' has served as a wrecking ball to nearly all of the first ten amendments to the Constitution - 3 being the only one arguably left untainted.

Yet a good part of our citizenry, including the few charged with guarding our liberties, are quite willing to let them be whisked away in the hopes that they can be traded for other societal amenities - security, equality, or most misguidedly, a 'drug free' nation.

Today, for example, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in the ridiculously publicized "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, that speech that could encourage drug use is so bad - and the control of it so fundamental - that it is more important than the protections guaranteed by the first amendment, at least in school.

We must wonder - will there be the creation of a list of content-based bans on speech? Which topics will be offered the mitigated version of freedom of speech, if any? First drugs, then sex, then religion, and soon and inevitably: dissent or radical topics of any kind.

There are few things that the founding thinkers of our nation agreed upon - and even fewer which contemporary historians agree that they agreed upon. One item that had the broadest support - if not near consensus - at the constitutional convention, in the public dialog that followed, and especially in the state proceedings to ratify the Constitution - was the simple idea that government was to be limited to the specific authority granted it.

The words "congress shall make no law," the very first words of the bill of rights, do not say, "congress shall make no law except where drugs are being discussed." They do not say, "Congress shall make no law except when school administrators think they should." They do not have an 'except' at all, and they were not meant to be interpreted as if they did.

Madison wrote (albeit not without a bit of consternation) that Congress shall make NO LAW abridging free speech. Any reasonable reading of the plain language leaves no room for consideration of the speech in question or the type of abrigement that Congress is asking it to endure.

Granted, none of the founders, at least in the forums I have mentioned, advocated applying the provisions of the first amendment to the states, which is the situation here. However, that was not an issue in this case. None of the Justices in the majority advocate returning to the state of free speech doctrine prior to incorporation of the protections of the 1st amendment to the states.

Rather, the issue here was the simple question of speech in school, and the Supreme Court did exactly what they tried to prevent an entire generation from doing: Let their judgment be clouded by drugs.

4 comments:

In My Seat 90 Minutes Before Kickoff said...

The most appalling part of this is he was suspended from school for exercising free speech OFF OF SCHOOL GROUNDS. How this even got this far is beyond me.

Justin Holmes said...

Not sure I agree on the relevance of this issue.

The jurisdiction of the school and the speech element are two separate legal questions, and even if this (rather mindless) speech had taken place in a school hallway, it should be protected.

In My Seat 90 Minutes Before Kickoff said...

I agree with you, however I could at least see how the school could have an argument if it had happened in the hallway. As the school has no juristiction off campus, how can they possibly have any right to suspend the student? It baffles me.

kaptinemo said...

In loco parentis...aeterna" That's the implication of this ruling. Perpetual political emasculation of students to the benefit of those in power. I knew this was coming when I read that no less than Federalist Society heavy-hitter Kenneth Starr was taking on the task of defending the school instead of the student. (Needless to say, with the Supreme Court being top-heavy with FS representation, one could argue that this was a 'done deal'.)