"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to." ~ Laurence J. Peter
My name is Joe Frederick and I graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School , class of 2002. I accumulated sufficient credits to graduate as a junior, but my father thought it best not to rush off to college, but to enjoy my senior year by taking physics, a couple of fun classes, and playing high school soccer. This is a story of a high school senior who refused to bow down in submission before an authority, the Juneau-Douglas High School administration, and made a simple assertion that high school students have individual rights too, and the high school administration have a responsibility to respect each student's individual rights.
During my senior year I would give my girlfriend, Makana, a ride to and from school. Since I did not have a full schedule, I would sit in the student commons area and read a book waiting for Makana's last class to end. One day as I sat reading The Stranger by Albert Camus, Vice Principal Staley approached and wanted to know what I was doing in the student commons area. I explained that I did not have any class but was waiting on my girlfriend's last class to end because I gave her a ride to and from school. Vice Principal Staley stated that if I did not have a class, then I needed to leave campus and wait for my girlfriend off of campus because students were not allowed to be in the commons area without school supervision. I informed Vice Principal Staley that I was a senior at the high school and it was ridiculous that I could not sit on school grounds reading a book waiting on my girlfriend. Mr. Staley ordered me off campus, but I refused stating: 'I am a student here and I have a right to sit and read a book and wait on my girlfriend.' Mr. Staley called the Juneau Police Department, and two officers advised I would be arrested for trespass if I did not leave immediately. I advised I would leave but did not understand how a student could be arrested for reading a book at a high school he attended. I was aware of other injustices done to students, but paid it no mind since it did not involve me personally. This time I was involved and this was the start of an escalation of abuse of power versus student rights. Martin Luther King was correct in asserting: 'An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'
The next day at school, I turned my chair around with my back to the flag and sat during the pledge of allegiance. This was my symbolic protest against a school administration that clearly lacked common sense and abused its power to retaliate against anyone who dared question their authority. The high school contacted my father and advised they were going to suspend me for ten days for turning my back on the flag and refusing to say the pledge after instructed to do so. My father came to the school, listened to my reason as to why I was protesting, and then advised the Vice Principal that 'You nor I may agree with either the reason or method of Joseph's protest, but it is constitutionally protected speech, and I will appeal any decision to suspend Joseph for ten days because he refused to say the pledge of allegiance.' The Vice Principal advised he would make a decision on the suspension by that afternoon. My father was contacted and advised there would be no suspension, but the details of Joseph's refusal to say the pledge would be in his high school record.
I had taken an American Justice class as a junior, and the class covered the Bill of Rights and all of its afforded protections, rights, and privileges. I decided to devise a plan that would clearly be constitutionally protected speech and speech that would be funny and at the same time embarrass the high school administration. My friends and I brainstormed but could not arrive at a verse that we all agreed upon. One day while snowboarding at Eagle Crest, my girlfriend pointed out a sticker on a snowboard that read: 'Bong Hits For Jesus.' This was the protected speech and parody that was perfect for the planned free speech experiment. We would unfurl this banner on private property and across the street from the high school during the running of the Olympic Torch, which was being covered by CNN. My friends and I joked about the message, saying it meant, 'Bring on national games--head into town for Jesus.' I insisted the sign was funny and really did not have a meaning, and it was a parody and could be subjectively interpreted to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. The high school was not an official sponsor of the running of the Olympic Torch, therefore being a school sponsored activity was not a concern, especially since it was going to be done off of school property. I believed I had thought all aspects out so that this demonstration of student free speech rights would protect all from any school administration repercussions. I did not plan on petty retaliations by professional educators. Voltaire was quite correct in his warning: 'It is extremely dangerous to be right if the government or one of its institutions are wrong.'
The day of the running of the Olympic Torch, students were let out of class to go watch the running of the Torch. Some students stayed at school to watch while others left campus and went to McDonald's and other places. My car was stuck in the snow that morning, so I arrived late and had not been on school property that morning. Across the street both students and non students stood waiting for the Olympic Torch to pass so that we could unfurl the banner reading 'Bong Hits For Jesus' in front of the entire nation since it was being filmed by CNN. We did exactly as was planned. The banner was unfurled in front of CNN News with the passing of the Olympic Torch. The High School Principal, Ms. Deb Morse, came running across the street and all ran away with the exception of myself and my friend Ryan. Ms. Morse jerked the banner from my hand and I asked, 'What about my First Amendment rights of free speech?' Ms. Morse replied, 'High school students do not have free speech. You and Ryan come to my office.' Ryan and I complied and went to Ms. Morse's office. At the Principal's office, I inquired about our constitutional rights, and Ms. Morse stated, 'High school students do not have constitutional rights, and you are under school authority from the time you walk out your door to go to school until you return home.' Ms. Morse then stated, 'Joseph, Ryan, you are both suspended for five days.' I then spoke up and said, 'Ms. Morse, Thomas Jefferson said, 'speech limited is speech lost' and Voltaire said, 'you may not agree with the message but you should defend my right to think it, speak it , and write it.'' Ms. Morse spoke up and said, 'Joseph, you just earned yourself an additional five days suspension.'
At the time of the suspension, Ryan and I were given no trespass instructions, and were provided with a schematic drawing of school properties we were prohibited from entering. I went home immediately and wrote the ACLU a letter about what occurred. I viewed it as a clear violation of the First Amendment. Meanwhile, I had no idea the high school was asserting the banner message was promoting drug use to students, which was absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous.
I looked at the schematic drawings of school properties, and the Juneau Borough Agusta Brown pool was clearly outside school property. In addition, the School District policy for violation of a trespass while on suspension is clear: It states the student will be given one additional day suspension for each trespass violation while on suspension. I would come to pick up my girlfriend after school, and if I arrived a few minutes early, I would park at the Agusta Brown pool while waiting, because the schematic drawing showed it clearly to be off of school property.
One day while parked at the pool--clearly not on school property--waiting for my girlfriend, and not realizing the school called the police and insisted I be arrested for trespass in clear violation of the high school and the school district's own policies, six Juneau police officers converged on my car and stated they were arresting me for trespass and impounding my car. I attempted several times to have the officers look at the schematic provided by the school so they would see I was not trespassing, but they refused to look at it. Although my car was legally parked, the officers refused to allow a licensed driver to take my car home and interfered with my girlfriend and prevented her from calling my dad to come and get the vehicle. I was taken to jail and my car was impounded. A search warrant obtained hours after my arrest and vehicle seizure stated they believed they would find large amounts of cash on my person obtained from illegal drug transactions, and large amounts of drugs in my car. When I was booked for trespass, I had all of 15 cents on my person. I was released wearing only a T-shirt because my jacket was in the car, and without enough money to make a phone call, I had to walk approximately three miles home in 10 degree temperature. Meanwhile, my car was torn apart, ruining my electrical door and windows. The only thing found was a straw that was in a Taco Bell cup that the police listed as drug paraphernalia.
In the meantime, my employer, Field Construction, saw my car being towed and stopped the tow truck driver to find out what was going on with my car. The tow truck driver told my employer he was taking the car to impound and the police told him the car belonged to a drug dealer that will be going away for a very long time. My employer became upset and called my father about the incident. In order to make a long story short, all trespass charges were dropped and no drug charges were made as a result of tearing my car apart. I had embarrassed the high school, so rather than follow their own policies regarding trespass, the high school informed the Juneau police I was a drug dealer with lots of cash and drugs in my car and insisted I be arrested for trespass, all because of the free speech experiment banner that read, 'Bong Hits For Jesus,' which the high school interpreted as advocating drug use.
When I returned to school, I was pulled out of my first period class and told to go to the Vice Principal's office. There I was introduced to an outside drug interdiction official, who said, 'Joseph, I am here to help you with your drug addiction.' I looked at the Vice Principal and the drug officer and said, 'I do not have a drug problem, I do not use illegal drugs, and who is saying that I am?' The drug interdiction officer said: 'Your high school says you have a drug problem.' I looked at both of them and walked away in total disgust. My father made me take drug screen tests for four straight months, all were negative, and the only apology I ever received came from my father, who said he was sorry for doubting me but wanted to make absolutely certain I was not into drugs.
Being suspended for 10 days denied my right to an education by missing 10 straight physics lectures, and the suspension was clearly in violation of my First Amendment rights of freedom of speech.
The final lesson I learned is how easy it is for professional educators to lie. After the ACLU became involved, the Juneau-Douglas High School administration started rewriting history and making up lies regarding the events that occurred, but it was all caught and detailed by the excellent ACLU Attorney, Douglas K. Mertz.
At the end of the school year, I was called into Principal Deb Morse's office, and ridiculed over the inappropriateness of a poem I had written that was published in the Juneau-Douglas High School 2002 year book. Ms. Morse was livid, and stated the poem should have been censored, and told me I was suspended for the remainder of the day. I went home very pleased that day, knowing how upset Ms. Morse was over being too late to censor my poem from the year book. The poem that Principal Morse would have liked to censor is as follows:
by: joseph frederick , class of 2002
civilization is the name
don't run away don't you dare civilization is taking us there upon us rests total blame an unstoppable force consuming everything within its course because of you none are free we are all part of your society all will join but some will be lost just add it up as another cost in the end what will you be
just one huge freedomless controlled entity
the past is done
the time has come to take the final stand piss into the wind of illusionary sin release chaos into the land
governments must fall civilization awaits our move no time to stall lets tear down the walls
and let the chaos soothe
we all die
it is just a matter of time no reason to try
to live past a prime
achieve your glory
fast and free live the story
One may ask, looking back at the retaliation of a vindictive, abusive, high school authority, was it truly worth it to assert your rights as a student? I have since found that the constitutional violations of student rights occur far too frequently, and the schools utilize Zero Tolerance policies to veil and cloak their abuse of authority and total disrespect for student rights. In the words of Albert Camus, 'I would rather die on my feet than live my life on my knees in submission to an unjust authority.'
I am now living and attending college in Texas . My First Amendment case is now in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Anyone wanting a copy of the legal brief may contact me at email@example.com