The courts have long ruled that free speech is not an absolute right. But not until a recent decision did I realize just how restricted it is (“Court: School can ban US flag shirts for safety,” USA Today, Feb. 27).
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that school officials have wide latitude in limiting the civil rights of students in order to ensure safety. The case involved students who were ordered to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out during the on-campus celebration of Cinco de Mayo at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif. The three-judge panel said that past events on the campus “made it reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real.”
I agree that the safety of students is paramount. But I think that school officials overreacted when they effectively banned display of the American flag on Cinco de Mayo. If multiculturalism is a valid goal, then what Live Oak High School did is hypocritical because it sends the unambiguous message that one group is superior to another. Moreover, it is a tacit admission that the school has failed in teaching tolerance.
What other conclusions can reasonably be drawn? Mexican students have every right to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or any other holiday, but so do other students have the right to demonstrate their patriotism. It is not disrespectful to either group to allow them to do so. Unless school officials can show that a clear and present danger to the safety of students exists, their action makes a travesty of multiculturalism.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.