School administrators were justified in punishing an El Paso high schoolstudent who wrote a violent story in his notebook, a federal appeals court ruledNov. 20 in a decision that free-speech advocates fear could greatly expandofficials’ power to censor student expression.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based itsdecision on its interpretation of the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Morse v.Frederick, the so-called “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case. In that decision, theCourt ruled that school officials can censor student speech that a reasonableobserver would believe advocated the use of illegal drugs. The 5th Circuit foundthat by similar reasoning, officials also can punish speech they believeadvocates behavior that endangers students’ physical safety.
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SPLC View: This is a terrible decision. Both the outcome and theexcessively broad reading of the Morse decision could spell big troublefor student speech if this ruling is permitted to stand. To reach this decision,Judge E. Grady Jolly, who wrote the majority opinion, had to read between thelines of Morse