In the latest example of truly, epically strange bedfellows, Robertson’s anti-ACLU American Center for Law and Justice (note acronym) has filed briefs in support of the kid in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus (NYT link; local PDF) case headed for the Supreme Court. Also on the kid’s side? The real ACLU, natch. On the other side? The Bush Administration. Yep: we’ve actually got Robertson and Bush on opposite sides of an issue, and it’s Robertson who’s with the angels. Crazy.
First, the gist:
On the surface, Joseph Frederick’s dispute with his principal, Deborah Morse, at the Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska five years ago appeared to have little if anything to do with religion — or perhaps with much of anything beyond a bored senior’s attitude and a harried administrator’s impatience.
As the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Juneau on its way to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, students were allowed to leave the school grounds to watch. The school band and cheerleaders performed. With television cameras focused on the scene, Mr. Frederick and some friends unfurled a 14-foot-long banner with the inscription: “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”
Mr. Frederick later testified that he designed the banner, using a slogan he had seen on a snowboard, “to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television.” Ms. Morse found no humor but plenty of meaning in the sign, recognizing “bong hits” as a slang reference to using marijuana. She demanded that he take the banner down. When he refused, she tore it down, ordered him to her office, and gave him a 10-day suspension.
Pretty ridiculous, right? Well, Frederick sued, and has won his case every time it’s been tried; the SCOTUS is the peabrained school’s last chance. And this is when it gets weird:
While it is hardly surprising to find the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship on Mr. Frederick’s side, it is the array of briefs from organizations that litigate and speak on behalf of the religious right that has lifted Morse v. Frederick out of the realm of the ordinary.
The groups include the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson; the Christian Legal Society; the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization based in Arizona that describes its mission as “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”; the Rutherford Institute, which has participated in many religion cases before the court; and Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm “dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights and religious freedom.”
The institute, based in Plano, Tex., told the justices in its brief that it was “gravely concerned that the religious freedom of students in public schools will be damaged” if the court rules for the school board.
The religious groups were particularly alarmed by what they saw as the implication that school boards could define their “educational mission” as they wished and could suppress countervailing speech accordingly.
“Holy moly, look at this! To get drugs we can eliminate free speech in schools?” is how Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic University, described his reaction to the briefs for the school board when the Liberty Legal Institute asked him to consider participating on the Mr. Frederick’s behalf. He quickly signed on.
Having worked closely with Republican administrations for years, Mr. Destro said he was hard pressed to understand the administration’s position. “My guess is they just hadn’t thought it through,” he said in an interview. “To the people who put them in office, they are making an incoherent statement.”
Oh, and Ken Fucking Starr is of course arguing for the government here. Does that guy EVER do anything that isn’t evil?