Friday, May 07, 2010

It's come to this

Five students at a California high school were told that they couldn't wear T shirts with images of the American flag on them. They had to either wear their shirts inside out or go home. They chose to go home.

So why were these shirts considered so offensive? Because it was Cinco de Mayo and the principal was afraid their shirts would spark fights with the Mexican-American students who were celebrating that day.

Note that wearing the Stars and Stripes is now considered rather like wearing gang paraphernalia that might lead to fights so it should be censored.
The boys told Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden that turning their shirts inside-out was disrespectful, so their parents decided to take them home.

"I just couldn't believe it," Julie Fagerstrom, Maciel's mother, told the Morgan Hill Times. "I'm an open-minded parent, but it's got to be on both sides. It can't be five kids singled out."

Galli told NBC Bay Area, "They said we could wear it on any other day, but today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it's supposed to be their holiday so we were not allowed to wear it."
It's fine if the Mexican-American students wanted to spend the day wearing images of the Mexican flag, but that shouldn't mean that other students can't express their national pride also. There doesn't seem to be any history of fights having broken out previously due to someone wearing the flag, so the administrators are just assuming that the Latino students will get angry and attack the kids wearing the American flag. Isn't that insulting to the Latino students?

In addition to the natural offensiveness of considering the American flag on the level of gang insignia, the administrators' actions seem pretty clearly to violate the students' First Amendment rights.
Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the students are protected under California Education Code 48950, which prohibits schools from enforcing a rule subjecting a high school student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct, that when engaged outside of campus, is protected by the First Amendment.

If the school could point to previous incidents sparked by students who wore garments with American flags, they could argue that the flag is likely to lead to "substantial disruption," Volokh said.

"If, for example, there had been fights over similar things at past events, if there had been specific threats made," he said. "But if [school officials] just say, 'Well, we think it might be offensive to people,' that's generally speaking not enough."

Volokh said the students and their parents likely have a winning case on their hands if they decide to take the matter to court.

"Oh yes, it's almost open and shut," he said.

Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and a Fox News legal analyst, said the incident appears to a "blatant" violation of the students' First Amendment right to free speech. She noted that inciting violence is an exception to a First Amendment legal defense, but Wiehl said she saw no indications that the students provoked anyone.
And note the sense of entitlement from this student.
"I think they should apologize 'cause it is a Mexican Heritage Day," Annicia Nunez told KNTV. "We don't deserve to get disrespected like that. We wouldn't do that on Fourth of July."
If the big push by supporters of illegal immigrants is that they be granted a path to citizenship, why assume that Latino students would object to the sight of a flag that so many immigrants are hoping to call their own? And if the sight of someone wearing an image of the American flag is indeed considered an incitement to violence or even a sign of disrespect, then we need to reconsider the debate over citizenship. Apparently, when we celebrate diversity, some students' diversity is more equal than others.

UPDATE: Dafydd Ab Hugh has some suggestions of how the administrators could have turned this whole experience into a valuable learning experience. And isn't that what schools are for?
* Think what a revelation it would have been had Miguel Rodriguez explained to them that, while their heritage may be Mexican, they themselves are American citizens… so the American flag is not insulting or disrespectful to them. (I doubt a single one of the protesting students is actually a Mexican citizen.)
* Imagine if Rodriguez had told them that celebrating a victory by Mexico over France does not require them to attack the United States… which allied with Mexico in that very war.
* Imagine if he had lectured them about showing civility themselves: The five students didn’t tell anyone else not to wear the colors of the Mexican flag; why should Hispanic students demand that their classmates not wear the colors of the American flag — which is, of course, also the flag of the Hispanic students?
Alas, the administrators simply thought of how to use rules to enforce their own idea of civility and passed up this opportunity. Clearly, mutual respect is not an aspect of this school's culture and the administrators model that lack of respect themselves.