'Bong Hits' dude strikes a blow for class clowns

March 27, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Class clowns in schools across the nation have to be standing up to salute former Alaska high school student Joseph Frederick. Heck, none of us ever made it further than the principal's office; he's made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

For a class clown, that has to be winning the Nobel Peace Prize, liberating France and ending starvation all wrapped into one.

Dude. You rock. That banner, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" that you displayed on the street as the Olympic torch passed through Juneau in 2002, got it done.

The standard has been set, never to be broken. As pranks go, this is Cal Ripken. Unapproachable.

And it's still going on because, thanks to you, nine stuffy, black-robed, aggrandized lords in the highest, most hallowed hall of jurisprudence in the world, are openly discussing the true meaning of the phrase "bong hit."


And just when it can't get better, it does. Because the mightiest pillars of the Fourth Estate such as The Washington Post and The New York Times are having to explain, set off by commas, what a bong is. "Frederick's attorneys argued that the bong, a water pipe used to smoke marijuana, was a matter of ..."

My man. If you had written "Whizzinators 4 Buddha" or "G Strings 4 Aphrodite," it would barely have been better.

Borat only wishes he'd thought of this. Eeeeeverybody is uptight about it. The Jesus thing, the drug thing - and I know a lot of people who aren't terribly comfortable about the numeral 4. That's Class Clown 101, man - make as many people squirm as possible.

Not the least of which was the school administration, which Principal Skinnered the kid back to the Stone Age. The school saw "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as a pro-drug-use message.

Not hardly. Class clowns don't think that way. We're not into political statements, we're more into disrupting normalcy. A banner that said "Do You Walk To School Or Carry Your Lunch?" would be a parallel comparison, although obviously it would have lacked the same punch.

Assigning meaning to the banner was the principal's first mistake. The second mistake was in even acknowledging its existence. Seasoned educators must be shaking their heads ruefully, knowing that the principal mainlined the student with the one drug he requires most: attention.

You take attention away from a class clown and he will wither up and die, like an orchid without water, or Jon Stewart without George Bush.

And speaking of Bush, the administration, represented by Ken Starr - who will heretofore be known as the sex and drugs prosecutor - took up the gauntlet for the school system and argued ... oh, who cares what this administration argues anymore.

It's hard to believe any lives would be destroyed on account of the banner, but that's never stopped the feds from getting involved before, so why break old habits?

It's also rather ridiculous, but great, that this stunt has evolved into a free speech vs. marijuana-use issue, reaching the supreme justices of the land. I read some of the transcripts from oral arguments, and you would have thought they'd been doing some firsthand research. ("When you said you were taking your case to the High Court, I assumed ...")

By the way, where's Douglas Ginsburg when you need him? As I recall, he surrendered his nomination to the bench after admitting that he'd smoked tree. So the one person who could lend expert commentary to the panel - or at least issued a writ of cannabis - isn't there.

The court can rule for one party or the other, rule a partial victory for each, or remand the case back to court of appeals. What they ought to do is remand it back to the Juneau Board of Education, where it should have been settled in the first place.

By the way, what is Joseph Frederick doing today? He's a high school teacher.

So in some ways, I'd say he's been punished enough.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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