An Alaska high school violated a student's free speech rights by suspending him after he unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" across the street from the school, a federal court ruled on Friday.
Joseph Frederick, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska, displayed the banner -- which refers to smoking marijuana -- in January 2002 to try to get on television as the Olympic torch relay was passing the school.
Principal Deborah Morse seized the banner and suspended the 18-year-old for 10 days, saying he had undermined the school's educational mission and anti-drug stance.
Friday's ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a decision by a federal court in Alaska that backed Frederick's suspension and said his rights were not violated.
The appeals court said the banner was protected speech because it did not disrupt school activity and was displayed off school grounds during a non-curricular activity.
"Public schools are instrumentalities of government, and government is not entitled to suppress speech that undermines whatever missions it defines for itself," Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote in the court's opinion.
The court also cleared the way for Frederick to seek damages, saying Morse was aware of relevant case law and should have known her actions violated his rights.