Just because I can…

Just because you can hold up a sign that says “Bong hits 4 Jesus” doesn’t mean you should.

While Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts’ attempt at creating a theme for the school year is honorable, and last year’s theme was to some degree a success, there is a fatal flaw in this year’s theme “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

While it can be, and is by most people, interpreted in ways that increase the morality of our school, it can also be used to justify a sort of censorship.

In an article in the September issue of the Chronicle, Huybrechts said that the theme adds a sobering effect to the school motto, “they can because they think they can.”

But does the motto need sobering?

In 2002, a student named Joseph  Frederick held up a sign on a public street in front of his school in Juneau, Alaska as the Olympic torch passed. The sign said, “Bong hits 4 Jesus.” He was suspended and his case was taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled last June that the school had a right to suspend him. The six-to-three vote was an overwhelming blow to students’ freedom of speech.
This school has had its brushes with censorship in the past. The April 2007 issue of the Chronicle featured a story on how students were not allowed to hang up public service announcements made in their photography class for fear that instead of advocating safe sex and warning against drug use, they instead promoted a promiscuous lifestyle.

Throughout their ordeal, photography teacher Kevin O’Malley kept students up to date on the Morse v. Frederick case. O’Malley said he asks instead of “What would Jesus do?”  (apparently not bong hits) he asks “What would William O. Douglas [a former Supreme Court justice who usually ruled in favor of freedom of speech] do?”

There are times at Harvard-Westlake when we forget how important freedom of speech is and how lucky we are to not have to deal with a the censorship that other schools, especially public schools, do. I have friends on other newspapers across the country who constantly tell me how they often have to call the Student Press Law Center. We on the Chronicle rarely do.

My question is can this year’s theme, supposedly meant to help students grow in their moral thought process, actually be used as an excuse to stifle them in their freedom of expression?

Maybe Huybrechts wanted the theme to be up for interpretation. We just need to make sure it’s not interpreted in the wrong way.

The Chronicle parodied the theme in a cartoon where a student was forced to think about the theme before auditioning for the musical. While that was in good fun (the Performing Arts department asked Chronicle adviser Kathleen Neumeyer if they could put it on t-shirts or mouse-pads), what if a student is forced to think about it before organizing a protest or speaking out about a wrong they feel the school is committing?

Just because I can write this column doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.