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School was wrong to ban American flag from school during Cinco de Mayo

October 17, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Apparently it is considered disruptive for students to wear an American flag T-shirt on the same day that their high school is celebrating Mexican heritage, at least at one California high school.

That's the issue before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California this week, according to an Associated Press story. A few years back, a principal at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill told students who wore the American flag T-shirts during the May 5 celebration to turn them inside out or go home when they wore them to school on "Mexican Heritage Day." The principal was apparently concerned that the T-shirts would provoke physical and verbal fights among the student body. Apparently the high school is plagued by violence and racial conflict.

The parents of the students who were sent home wearing their American flag T-shirts were annoyed and filed suit, claiming the school violated the students' free speech rights. The case was thrown out by a lower court in December 2011 but has been appealed by the parents to the appeals court.

The school's attorney argues that the students' speech was restricted for a single day and was done to prevent school disruption. Schools generally have the ability to restrict dress or speech in cases where there is a disruption.

One question that leaps immediately to my mind is why the school held the Mexican heritage day in the first place, particularly since it looks like they had reason to know that it might provoke this sort of reaction. It seems the administration made some contributions to any disruption at the school. While Cinco de Mayo might be a nice nod to the heritage of Mexican-American students at the high school, it isn't actually an academic requirement to celebrate it.

Another question: just why would the American flag provoke violence? There isn't anything inherently white or black or Asian or Hispanic or American Indian about the U.S. flag. Anyone born or naturalized here is an American citizen; any child who has grown up in the United States, even one who came here illegally, probably is at least culturally American. The Mexican-American kids had as much right to wear that symbol and feel proud of it as kids from any other background.

Regardless of whether the school administrators thought they had good reasons to ban the American flag from the school that day, I think they were wrong. This wasn't a good enough reason to deny any student his First Amendment rights for a minute or for an hour, much less for a day.

The administrators deserve a sharp reminder that "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled back in 1969. In the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case, it ruled that three teenagers had the right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Surely that was a time with far more disruptions than we have now.

 
 

Article Comments

(2)

AndreaJohnson

Oct-18-13 2:19 PM

And who do you suppose is guilty of "veiled racism and bigotry" in this instance?

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which certainly applies to a T-shirt with the American flag on the front. I'd be equally adamant about protecting the rights of a high school student who chose to wear a Cinco de Mayo T-shirt to make a statement at a Patriot Day ceremony. Schools don't get to limit expression without a darned good reason and this wasn't one of them.

Oct-17-13 8:40 PM

Instead of sending these kids home the school administration should have commended them for wearing a shirt with the American flag on it. Seems we are at a point where being patriotic in some circles is frowned upon as being politically incorrect. Any person in this country should be able to display the American flag on shirts and other clothing respectfully and receive praise for this any and every day of the year. If someone is offended or upset at the site of our flag then " get the*****out of my country".

 
 

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