back to article Student's suspension for IM buddy icon upheld by US court

Student speech in the US continues to take a beating. The Supreme Court, in the infamous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case decided last month, signaled to the federal judiciary that it was open season on student speech. Indeed, Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, argued that students should have no free speech rights …


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  1. John A Blackley


    The little darling is damned lucky he didn't get nicked for incitement.

  2. Robert Sandstedt

    Fecking moronic

    The kid deserved punishment, but not by the school system. There once was a time when such behavior would have resulted in a conference between the school and the parents to resolve the issue. Instead we get a courtroom drama and now independent thinking can be squashed with glee by educators across the nation.

    The next generation of sheeple is now assured success.

  3. Mike Morris

    Thomas - the legal liliputian

    Someone should look into this hypocritical and small minded jurist and see what his take on free speech was while he attended school. If he was normal (doubtful), he expressed ideas, maybe even radical ones to see how the felt, fit and could work into his growth as a human being. If he was too dim or too timid to express anything but the day's pap, he once again confirms most people's low expectations for his legal opinions. This decision now condemns a generation of potential free thinkers to the oblivion of conventionality and possibly contributes to the frustrated actions of a few individuals that really do disrupt school in a very bad way. A sad representation of our country and the ideals once strongly supported here for learning. No moron left behind. Our schools are no longer even remotely aimed at education, only control.


  4. Neil Anderson


    Is it possible to threaten someone if you don’t tell them?

    Neil Anderson

  5. Mike


    IIRC, his first case as a Supreme was about a man scheduled to die for a murder the police no longer believed he committed. The question was whether or not that fact was sufficient grounds to allow an appeal before execution. Thomas, fortunately in the minority, felt not.

  6. Greg Nelson

    Crossing The Line

    I think the kid needs the disciplinary action to forcefully impress upon him the serious nature of crafting death threats against recognizable people. As to the fate of the current crop of rebels without a clue, I don't think a suspension would deter a committed freethinker. If anything those, who are able to articulately, upset the apple cart, are likely to see a suspension as a badge of honour. I got kicked out of various high schools 5 times and I'm as inordinately proud of each suspension as I am of my sports scars. Of course my suspensions weren't likely to be indelibly embedded in the net's archives and ghost after me for the rest of my life.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how to create angry young people

    You stop people expressing themselves no matter how silly or stupid it might be, then a feeling of resentment builds until it is expressed in other more serious ways.

    The student agreed that the icon was stupid and its quite clear it was an in joke not meant to openly offend the subject of the joke. But it obvious there was some reason behind it and that this was a release of some stress.

    Now here is a situation where a family is run out of town just because of this.

    This makes the stakes much higher when students want to protest about some perceived wrong or annoyance. Therefore, like I said, the response will be more serious.

    Teachers know what to expect and should have some self restraint when it comes to reacting to things like this. They should try and keep a perspective instead of creating an atmosphere of tyranny and blind obedience. If they can not then they are not good role models and should be removed from the job. I think a teacher who shows measured response is in it self a good lesson for those students around them. This example just shows that an over reaction and all out persecuting of the student and family is the way to go.

    I'm glad I don't live around there.

  8. Peter Mc Aulay


    Suspension and a court drama over an IM avatar? Am I the only one to think that's so incredibly ridiculously over the top it's not even funny anymore? Land of the free unless you don't march in line, what.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So, if I was to be a student and I got a bad grade or got told of and I happened to respond saying that I HATE my teacher, would that be seen as an affront and a threat? Now lets say that I'm a 6ft black guy who is on the american football team and easily able to take them down.... still not a threat?

    The system is following suit and going stupidly politically correct!

    Another example, lets say we have a picture of our boss and we stick it on a dartboard and throw darts at it, is that bad?

    What about if a couple break up and she burns any pictures of him and shouts obsceneties and for whatever reason make threats about him to her friends, or her friends 'supportingly' say he should die (doesn't matter on the reason why, this happens alot), now are they not more of a threat then a student who happens to not like his teacher?


  10. Morely Dotes

    They've done the kid a favor

    After all, in 10 or 15 years, from "Weed sport" school may be sufficient grounds to arrest the former student for use and distribution of narcotics, and rendition to Guantanamo as a suspected "enemy combatant."

    Now he's moved away, presumably to some school that doesn't have any obvious relation to marijuana, the Evil Weed which clearly causes all terrorist and anti-Republican activities.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A Double standard

    I guess Justice Thomas never heard of Rap music telling people to kill the police.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sad, but undeniably true.

    My worst fear of the 2004 presidential election came true. George Bush has appointed Supreme Court Justices. (Although, Dick Cheney actually made the selections for him. George would have picked Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers if he was in charge. When his failed nomination of Miers was laughed out of existence, he went back to Uncle Dick's choice: Sam Alito.)

    The worst thing about this is exactly what you described in the article: the four conservatives' (I prefer to call them "The Four Stalins.") views on individual rights. It doesn't matter how blatantly the government violates an individual's rights. The Four Stalins will always side with the government.

    The best example of this is the 5-3 ruling (Thank god for the 5!) in the Hamdan case. (Justice Roberts recused himself because he had already ruled for the government in this case when he was a Federal Judge.) Despite blatant violations of Hamdan's rights, The Four Stalins all sided with the government.

    How blatant were these violations? He was held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay for years without charge, without access to the courts to challenge his status, and with only very limited access to an attorney.

    How does that violate the US Constitution? Let us count the ways:

    For the non-Americans out there, the first 10 amendments to our Constitution are referred to as "The Bill of Rights." They describe the unalienable rights that all persons have. (Note that this applies to all persons, not just US Citizens.)

    Amendment 5:

    "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

    He was detained indefinitely without being charged, and without access to the courts. Remember, the "Military Tribunals" they were using to try prisoners at Guantanamo were not a part of the court system. They were operating solely under the command of the (Vice) President.

    Amendment 6:

    "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ... and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

    Hmmm. Quite a few violations here. Years behind bars without being charged. He was to be tried in an ultra-secret kangaroo court manned by hand-picked US Military judges (who were punished when they ruled in favor of the defendents). He was not allowed to call witnesses for his defense, or to confront the witnesses against him. He was barred from attending the trial, and barred from even seeing the evidence against him. Also his attorney was a US military lawyer who lost his job because he defended Hamdan so vigorously.

    Amendment 8:

    "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

    Torture would definitely count as cruel and unusual punishment.

    Amendment 9:

    "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    This means that it is forbidden to interpret any rights explicitly granted by the constitution to mean that rights not mentioned are denied. So, the Constitution cannot be used to remove any right that is not listed.

    The Supreme Court's job is to make sure that no action of the US government violates the constitution. Every single one of the violations that I listed above is enough to demand the court to throw out the government's case against Hamdan, as well as the "Military Tribunal" system that was set up to try him. Yet, even with all of the violations that I listed, The Four Stalins all ruled in favor of the US Government.

    So, according to The Four Stalins torture, indefinite detainment without access to the courts or even a lawyer are all within the power of the president!!!!!!!!

    Undoubtedly the justification for their decisions was the "He's a terrorist and he doesn't deserve any rights" argument. (While I don't have the exact wording, Justice Scalia actually said something along the lines of "I'll never give these terrorists the same rights as my son, who is fighting against them in Afghanistan" in a speech not long before the court heard this case. Impartial, he's heard of it.) They decided to overlook the two gigantic holes in that line of reasoning:

    1) He's a terrorist, ACCORDING TO WHO!? He hasn't been tried yet, so he's still innocent until proven guilty. Where's the evidence against him? It's hidden under double-secret classification by the military, and no one (especially the defendant) is allowed access to it. If you say he's a terrorist, then PROVE IT!! You should have no trouble convicting him in either a Federal Court or a Military Court Martial.

    2) Their ruling doesn't just apply to terrorists, it applies to EVERYBODY! So if the Four Stalins had gotten their way in the Hamdan case, the government could kidnap, lockup, and torture ANYBODY that they wanted!!

    So, given the current makeup of US Supreme Court, the BEST decision that we can hope for in any case regarding individual rights is a 5-4 victory for the defendant. On top of that, the swing vote on the court (Kennedy) has a substantial track record of making his decision about the case based on his personal feelings, then finding some way of legally justifying his position afterward. As shown with his "You can't have a late-term abortion because some day you might regret that you did it." decision earlier this year. (I'm not joking. That was the actual reason he listed in his ruling....)

    So, basically we are totally fucked for a year and a half at the very least. The only hope that we have left is the possibility that a Democrat will become president in 2008, followed by one of The Four Stalins or Justice Kennedy dropping dead from a heart attack.

    I'm not holding my breath.

    PS - Of course, it's foreseeable that my posting will cause some disruption somewhere in the world. So, according to the Supreme Court, I could be thrown in jail (or worse) for this posting. Yay!

    PPS - I need a drink...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Children are sent to school to learn. When they are adults, they can make up their own minds and say whatever the want. Within boundaries agreed by civil society. Bong hits 4 Jesus and violent death wishes don't belong in schools or for that matter most anywhere else.

    We need to raise children to be principled, intelligent free thinking adults not addle-minded morons. Contrary the heavy bias, these court rulings don't seem to prevent students from articulate dissent, just empowers administators to stop outright disruption.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It makes one wonder

    Can politicians and supremes get the death penalty for treason during a time of war? I mean, wouldn't revoking most parts of the Constitution be defined as adhering to the enemies of the United States and aren't they always throwing the war in Iraq and on terror in our faces?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: blah

    So his mates, who didn't go to college and dropped out to get a job/claim benefits, etc, are free to express themselves while he remains shackled because he's a "child"? Hmm, interesting logic you've got going there.

  16. Dale Morgan

    I didn't read it all

    I only read up until I found out what his AIM icon was then skipped to here.

    The kid should not be complaining about his suspension, he should of got alot more punishment. In a country where school shootings are not uncommmon its completley idiotic to have an icon suggesting killing a teacher.

  17. James Cleveland

    I hope these people realise

    That when these kids grow up, they're not going to be looking out for their seniors, what this constant stream of crap.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad Lawyer, Good Case

    The problem with this case is that the families lawyer should have argued that the school had no legal standing to suspend the kid due to the following facts: The actions did not happen on school property (the signature icon existed elsewhere in cyberspace), the alleged threatening actions did not physically take place anywhere, were not directed towards the "victim" and no definable crime was committed (the internet is not a place, "Sticks and stones won't hurt me" and what about habeus corpus? No body, no crime), millions of editorial cartoons dating back hundreds of years have expressed similar opinions against far more public figures (not to mention comedic acts), the expression of dark thought is still not a crime (except in the UK or the Vatican), oh and some astute Reg readers bang-on comments regarding the undue influence by King George Bush and his Dick (Cheney) on the American Judicial system (probably played the biggest part in the decision by the Court of Appeals, Gonzales might fire these Judges if they don't fall in with the "Nazi, er GOP Party" line)

    If I were the family, I would appeal again but only AFTER the Bush/Dick religious minority is no longer in power. Who knows, maybe he can get a pardon?

    Oh and I just couldn't help myself - Have you noticed how strikingly similar Britains new PM looks like the hypocritic right wing newscaster in the movie "V for Vendetta"? Food for thought!

  19. Robert Sandstedt


    "Children are sent to school to learn. When they are adults, they can make up their own minds and say whatever the want. Within boundaries agreed by civil society. Bong hits 4 Jesus and violent death wishes don't belong in schools or for that matter most anywhere else."

    It didn't happen at school... The kid was being a misanthrope on his own time. The school has no business disciplining children for activities that happen away from school, outside of school hours. One thing is for sure, turning in your neighbor has now been reinforced as a desirable behavior.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Bad Lawyer, Good Case

    ["he problem with this case is that the families lawyer should have argued that the school had no legal standing to suspend the kid due to the following facts: The actions did not happen on school property (the signature icon existed elsewhere in cyberspace), the alleged threatening actions did not physically take place anywhere, were not directed towards the "victim" and no definable crime was committed (the internet is not a place, "Sticks and stones won't hurt me" and what about habeus corpus? No body, no crime),]

    You make a good argument that should have held sway in the courts. Unfortunately, at least one of the cases (sorry, not familiar with the older case) they were using as precedence also featured events that didn't take place on campus The bong hits 4 Jesus banner was displayed along side the Olympic Torch-bearer route, not at school. There was also no crime that happened with the banner display. The students weren't caught smoking pot, or worshiping Jesus (a greater crime in my opinion). They just displayed a banner. As there was no crime, there also was no victim.

    Despite all of that, The Four Stalins and the insane Justice Kennedy still ruled that the school could censor the students.

    Scary shit.

    PS - Damnit! I just created another disruption. Now that I have a second offense, I'm probably headed off to Guantanamo.

  21. Paddy


    Well it may be completely off topic but I met a beautiful girl one summer called muireann wisniewski and I still dream of her now :)

  22. heystoopid

    Poor kids of today

    Poor kids of today , we wrap and bind them tightly in cotton wool , literally sit on them with overbearing protection methods , we don't let them grow up , socialize or learn how to be real people in a complex real world, we do all the assorted bad things that we ban the kids from doing because they are children , and use the phoney excuse they are to young to understand !

    We used Benjamin Spock's book as the absolute guide to be followed to the letter against better judgement!

    Back in my day at school when we including the teacher of the day would have had a great laugh about why it was wrong, then he would give ten of the best , and when we went home to mum and dad , he would deal another forty in the same spot and then send you to bed without supper to think about why it was so wrong , so we could live and learn from our mistakes and errors whilst becoming an adult in an imperfect world!

    Now in today's new age education , corporal punishment is deemed to be a cruel and evil torture , children are expected to behave as perfect innocent angels at all times , who can do no wrong and behave perfectly without any learning curves as to why it is so!(apologies to Julius for that comment)in an imperfect world full of images that children are not allowed to follow or be involved in , but simultaneously feed them full of propaganda! ,and under no circumstances are they allowed to have fun or use their imagination in any way shape or form!

    Now on top of this , we as adults are being led well and truly astray by our ever wanking leaders telling nothing but total lies with impunity at every opportunity! , robbing us blind without punishment. Not a good way of being a role model to follow without question!

    Yes , the poor children of today , caught between a rock and a hard place , little wonder they are confused and bewildered , unable to play , forbidden to explore or learn from experience ! , other than what we stuff in front of them , how indeed they will treat the next generation is anybody's guess!

    And we now wonder where we went wrong !

    Little wonder indeed we resort to the courts to resolve basic simple issues easily resolved over a conference table , and replace them complex illogical misleading legal argument and reduce everything that is black and white to all shades of grey!

    Sounds to me that particular school is being run by a bunch of idiots , wankers and adherents to the "peter principle" to let it run that far up the legal chain , for such a petty incident if truth be told!

    Sadly , this case has no winners and every one lost just another freedom to the authorities and the powers to be , and another nail in the coffin called democracy!

  23. Michael Martin

    Ads in comments now?

    Will someone please nuke Neil Anderson's comments wholesale? They're nothing but a single line to provide a space for his 'signature' which consists entirely of a link to his website where he's selling his book. In other words: KILL THE SPAM

  24. Tim Coughlin

    Much ado about nothing

    This is just another situation of a school district acting over zealously. Did the district have the right to act on the complaint of the teacher? Yes, it created a (perceived, if not in fact) disruption of the educational environment. Does the punishment fit the crime? Not in my opinion. There are many better ways to impress upon the student that what he did wasn't that bright (ie: a special research project on threats in a school environment during a 5 or 10 day suspension). This is the kind of thing that happens when a school administration and board don't apply logic and common sense to a disciplinary issue. Just my $.02...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We don't need no education

    he was kicked out of school, hardly shackled or punished. If he and his parents valued the school, they could have apologised and sorted it out instead of suing. I suspect there is a lot more to this story than one ''innocent'' mistake.

  26. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Sticks and stones

    What really gets me in the whole business is how the US Goverment goes on and on about protecting free speech, but when even the police think it is a joke, albeit a bad one, maybe thats why the police got it ;-), they get all heavy handed. Indeed, the boy should have been told off, or, better yet, ridiculed by the teachers. That can REALLY hurt. Nothing hurts kids more than feeling ridiculous, or not even worthy of your anger.

    Hypocrisy is nothing new in a country where "nipplegate" is considered an outrage, but having assault rifles is OK (how many gun-related deaths per year? how does that compare to Lebanon at the height of its civil war).

  27. JP


    Students... Free speech... Supression...

    Didn't something happen in China in '89 with these criteria?

    Communism for the Rich!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The textbooks.....

    as supplied by McDonalds???

    This is just dumb, the kid was venting frustration aand anger at the teacher, would they rather he picked up an assulat rifle and went on a rampage though the school????

  29. Matt


    and this is why kids are crazy in the states and go around shooting people, seriously who wouldn't go demented in such a retarded nation.

    Long gone are the days of playing doom using skins of your most hated teachers (O the lols of "I've fallen and I can't get up" coming from the headmaster). Who at school didn't know someone (or was the someone) who doodled cartoons of getting one up on teachers.

    I've since drawn cartoons including the obliteration of several senior figures at a certain electricity company, my own managers and various others. Such things are a way of blowing off steam and having a good lol at people to far off to touch.

    Anyway another sign of the good old usa being crazy, much like that unfortunate teacher and the porn pop ups. Evidence? Crimes? who needs such things to disrupt peoples lives in a Mcarthyesque era.

    You're all extremists bent on the destruction of good solid christian values and you will all be found guilty (at least that seems to be the opinion of the state.)

  30. Steve Browne

    Is it time ....

    For americans to grow up.

    Now, sad as it may seem, but it is precisely this sort of behaviour, on the part of the authorities which produces the bad feeling against them, that CAN last a lifetime. Supreme court indeed, for an icon on a web site. Perhaps they ought to remind THEMSELVES about the bit that says "The law does not bother with trifles" and leave the kids alone.

  31. Neil

    No million dollar lawsuit?

    Why has nobody sued anybody yet?

    This is America! A perfect chance to sue!

  32. Swineherd


    When I think back to when I was school, a mere decade ago, I can think of many, many times when kids would draw rude pictures about teachers, or make up nicknames for them, or talk about their bad breath, or say how much they hate them, etc etc. This is nothing new, nothing shocking, it's something that's gone on since formal education began - why is one child being punished for it now?! This is completely and utterly retarded.

    All hail the land of the free.

  33. Steve Ringham

    Bertie Smalls alert

    I'd be most p**sed at the classmate who grassed about the avatar in the first place. Talk about either

    1) a sense of humour failure or

    2) what's it got to do with you?

    While I feel sorry for anyone affected by the political atmosphere in the US right now, at least the rest of the world can look forward to the day when the USA implodes in a pile of stinking litigation and political oppression.

    Because it could never happen here..........could it!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There is a distinct difference between challenging "the crap in a text book" and portraying the death of an educator. "Free speech" like the "Right to Bear Arms" is abused when people use these statements as defenses for inappropriate behavior. It warps and degrades the spirit in which those ideas were originally penned. Should this have gone to court? NO. Should this have been punished? Yes. But how severe, well I guess it depends on who you are. The child and family probably thinks way to long, while the teacher is (I'd be loosing sleep over it) probably thinking not severe enough.

  35. Greg Nelson

    Re: Sad, but undeniably true.

    Thanks for the personal insight. I've been following the nightmare's unfolding with much fear. Too few people understand the need for a strong and independent Judiciary, especially now in the U.S.A. Bush and Cheney have usurped the judicial system. The Supreme Court now acts as a get out of jail free for Bush and Cheney should they ever be brought before the courts.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that unreasonable

    Compared to how many "zero tolerance" drug policies are enforced, the kid got off easy. Expulsions for having Aspirin or other benign pharmaceuticals (even with a prescription), etc. aren't unheard of. At least in this case the kid receiving the punishment might actually have a useful lesson to learn: respect. Or, more possibly (but still unlikely): discretion.

  37. Tim

    American culture/virus

    I've noticed American culture seeping into other countries, not least the UK. Is this what we have to look forward to in the next ten years? Or is it already here?

    Didn't Ben Franklin go out of his way to give freedom of speech to the people? If a Justice of the peace makes unconstitutional statements, he can be defended by the constitution, but when he makes unconstitutional rulings should he not be removed from his position. Dishonourably discharged. For that matter, isn't the rest of congress making a mockery of the constitution?

  38. Dillon Pyron

    He's actually lucky

    He's lucky he wasn't/hasn't been busted for making a terrorist threat.

    Many years ago the supremes ruled that "freedom of speech does not end at the school house door". Hmm.

  39. SnowHawk

    300m, you expect a few idjits

    US pop is approaching 300 million. You kind of expect a few idiots in the bunch.

    However, I have to question this statement, "In a country where school shootings are not uncommmon..." by Dale Morgan. "Not uncommon"? Are you kidding me? Women with large breasts are "not uncommon", school shooters are pretty damn rare. Overzealous school administrators are "not uncommon", every school seems to have at least one, rampaging students with weapons are again, pretty damn rare.

    Get some perspective.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    yea we are at about 300million here..and we have our share of idiots, but how did they get elected, and how did I end up paying for them????????

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He's not a hero, he's just a very naughty boy

    This is the story of a schoolboy - not a student, but a schoolboy - who spread unpleasant and rather threatening messages about his teacher. He got told on and was severely punished by the school for is. He didn't like it and, being American, he sued. The court told him not to be such an arse about it. Good for the court.

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