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On this test, the court fails

Today, we're going to talk about drugs.

Of course, if you read this space regularly, you had to suspect this would come up sooner or later.

However, if you were expecting a confession, this isn't it. This regards the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling last week that public high schools and middle schools may conduct random drug tests on student athletes.

Although there are many arguments for whether the ruling is right, in my opinion, it is quite simple.

The ruling is wrong.

It is wrong for several reasons, most of which should seem obvious to those who have ascended to the level of Supreme Court Justice. I think the justices who voted in favor of the ruling were aware of these reasons, yet ignored them in making their decision, which is a disservce to the American people.

The reasons include that:

The decision breaks from virtually all preceding rulings the court has made regarding mass suspicionless searches outside of the private workplace. Exceptions have regarded railroad personnel and federal customs officers, for public safety considerations far more evident than those regarding teenage athletes.

Athletes are unfairly singled out from the student body by the decision, despite no clear evidence that overall illicit drug use by athletes is either more prevalent or more dangerous than among other teenagers.

Adults who enter certain professions that require random drug testing made a choice to do so. The same is true for collegiate athletes and for others who entered either an occupation or institution that has random drug testing. The only choice public school athletes make is the decision to play sports. But students who choose to enter other extra-curricular activities, such as band or student government, would not be tested.

The ruling is also, in my opinion, an unfair intrusion into the privacy of teenagers, reinforcing that the Supreme Court considers young Americans, as an American Civil Liberties Union official opined, "no more than second-class citizens under the law."

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court gave school officials the power to search school lockers and girls' purses. While I certainly would consider that an invasion of privacy, I buy the argument that such searches can be a powerful tool for the overall good. Drugs and firearms do not belong on school grounds, and their presence there can be a serious danger to everyone.

However, I do not believe that the presence of illicit drugs in a certain student's urine represents a serious danger to the student body at large.

Do I mean that there is nothing wrong with students using illicit drugs? Not at all. The practice is dangerous and illegal, and parents need to be certain both to educate their children about the dangers and to keep close watch on their children for signs of drug use.

The Supreme Court is suggesting that the dangers of drug use to a small amount of certain individual athletes _ who have made a conscious choice to use illicit drugs _ outweighs the privacy rights of all student athletes.

Even more curiously, the Supreme Court's decision regarded a program by a school district in Oregon that included tests for amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine and LSD, but not alcohol or steroids.

Probably the most widely abused drug by teenagers is alcohol, and if there is any illicit drug use that would beconsidered specific to athletics, it is steroid abuse. That the Supreme Court's decision upholds that particular program makes its decision all the more ridiculous.

Illicit drug use can be deadly. The government may well be right to believe it has a responsibility to protect minors from that danger. This ruling, however, is not the right tool.

Next week: To Rick's incalculable dismay, his test results come back positive for extra-hot chicken wings, Slim Jims and Yoo Hoo.