I was just reading this post about two different reactions to student free speech. The Independent Gay Forum is by and about gays but is not the typical leftist gay tripe; in other words, I've found interesting and intellectually challenging posts there, and the linked post is one of them.
That post started off with the Tinker case, decided by the US Supreme Court in 1969, which ruled that wearing a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War was "symbolic speech" and hence could not be prohibited under the 1st Amendment. How does one identify the dividing line between symbolic speech and outright action? How can real speech be limited in certain situations (reasonable time/place/manner restrictions, yelling "fire!" in a croweded theater), but so-called symbolic speech cannot have the same reasonable time/place/manner restrictions? I'm left to wonder if the Supremes weren't smoking some of that good Nevada County sins when they crafted that debacle of a decision.
The linked article then shows two very different responses to free speech at school:
This bit of history is relevant because the Ninth Circuit now must decide whether a California sophomore named Tyler Chase Harper was unfairly sent home from his high school for wearing a t-shirt saying "Homosexuality is shameful." The overt sloganeering is certain uncivil, but is it also political speech protected by liberal jurisprudence? If so, then opponents of the t-shirt must prove it is a form of harassment that keeps gay students from learning in order to have it banned.
Meanwhile, here's another public school culture-war skirmish. At Howell High School in Michigan, when the Diversity Club hung a rainbow flag in a hallway, it was allowed to remain despite a petition by Christian conservatives. That prompted these students to create a Traditional Values Club and produce their own flag. Now, faculty members have voted that both flags should be displayed only in classrooms during club meetings.
It's unfortunate that the comments are not as stimulating as the post itself.
So, given that students can protest a war at school, thereby showing their political beliefs, why can students not show off their religious beliefs? Is it because, in the first place above, it makes others feel bad? I don't get cheery when I see students (or teachers) wearing Che Guevara shirts--should they be banned? Apparently they can't be, according to Tinker. So where does a school draw the line, given Tinker's muddy terrain? Students in my own district, many who were religious Eastern European immigrants, were punished this year for wearing not-gay-friendly shirts to school and protesting outside the school.
The whole field of law is a mess, and it started in 1969.
I'm not very religious. I'm definitely a believer, but no one will ever be able to use my behavior to justify calling me a devoutist (unfortunately). Still, the anti-Christian occurrences in our schools are frequent enough to raise my ire several degrees. The second story is one in a long list of such events, and reflects poorly on the so-called open-mindedness of the staff at that school.
What if students wanted to start a KKK chapter? Obviously a school would not allow such a club. Yet MEChA chapters exist in many schools, and they're a vile, racist organization. Where is the line drawn? Legal/illegal, positive/negative? Under what circumstances might a Traditional Values Club be banned? And is there a freedom of association/freedom of religion argument for such a club? It gets muddy very fast, doesn't it?
This story from New York state is also pretty interesting. A student, as a way of protesting what he saw as overly-strict rules at his school, had a very interesting yearbook quote: "Ein Folk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuerher." Using Hitler's patriotic quote was this student's way of saying that his school administration was running a police state.
17-year-old Galen Barbour submitted Hitler's quote at the start of the school year. It originated as a Nazi era slogan. But that was not Barbour's inspiration, instead he says he was merely protesting against the school's strict policies.
"The school is just this playground for discipline now. They'll bust you for going to the bathroom without a hall pass. They'll bust you for having a coffee mug... I used the quote because to me Hitler in ways represents a historical police state," said Barbour.
Instead of punishing young Galen, the powers that be gave him sensitivity training.
Barbour sat down with three teachers from the high school who had personal ties to the holocaust.
"I'm sure it was an impulsive decision by the student and I'm sure that student probably regrets it by now," said (Superintendent) Keith.
Maybe he could just have worn an armband with a swastika. What would the Tinker supporters have to say about that?
The final crushing of dissent, though, comes at the end of the story:
Superintendent Keith says more faculty advisors will be added to the yearbook staff to make sure controversial quotes will not be overlooked again.
I'm sure they won't be. And then the 1st Amendment arguments will start all over again.