Justice Clarence Thomas, experienced in such matters, led the way in claiming gagging rights.
If only Alaska student Joe Frederick hadn’t used religion in his “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner, which he and others unfurled in 2002 to get face time while TV crews videoed the Olympic torch nonsense parading through Juneau.
It’s funny that so many religious-right megachurches — like McLean Bible Church, which attracts Scooter Libby, Ken Starr and many members of Congress — are run by guys who were once drug users and drug dealers but who finally found Jesus after they inhaled copious bong hits.
Today’s moralists would have loved another drug abuser, Lenny Bruce. He shocked everyone with naughty words, but the motherfucker was really hounded, as Martin Garbus claimed at the time, because he was always badmouthing organized religion, and cops and prosecutors and judges couldn’t take that, so they used his drug abuse to take him down. (See Doug Linder‘s concise “Trials of Lenny of Bruce” for the Garbus mention and also a snippet of my colleague Nat Hentoff‘s testimony.)
In the Bong Hits case, it was Thomas, the self-described Long Dong Silver who joined the high court 16 long fucking years ago, speaking for the unconscious of the court. Feeling the need to write a concurrence, here’s how Thomas kicked it old-school — seriously, he went all the way back to Colonial-era schools to kick the shit out of the First Amendment:
It takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Besides, if our Colonial laws have to be so strictly constructed in the 21st century, then why should Negroes like Thomas now be considered citizens?
Strictly a lightweight, Thomas is the most blatantly ideological of justices. Justices like Thomas simply agreed that the banner was offensive and then worked backwards from that conclusion to craft opinions. If Joe Frederick’s banner hadn’t intertwined drugs and Jesus, Thomas wouldn’t be huffing and puffing and marching in rigid back formation about this issue.
Chief Justice John Roberts was more reasonable in his majority opinion, which was still absurdly repressive.
Luckily, there’s some common sense on the record in Dong v. Bong. The ancient John Paul Stevens — please, don’t let Jack Kevorkian come near him — dissented, cutting through the bullshit to say this:
The newest justice, Sam Alito, has a history of occasionally standing up for the First Amendment, but we knew that already. In this case, he went along with the Cardassian majority, but at least he was frank about why, and he left an out:
If only Joe Frederick hadn’t called for bong hits but had instead hoisted a banner that posed a serious question about the war on drugs. Well, if he had done that, the TV cameras would have zoomed right past him.