It never ends

Liam Julian

Speaking of legal issues in schools.... According to Education Week:

A federal appeals court has ordered an Illinois school district to allow a student to wear a T-shirt proclaiming "Be Happy, Not Gay" to protest a high school event meant to promote tolerance of gay students.

First, one struggles to understand Judge Posner's thinking when he writes, "???Be Happy, Not Gay' is only tepidly negative; 'derogatory' or 'demeaning' seems too strong a characterization." Seems that "derogatory" exactly describes such a slogan. Is a sartorial expression of "Be Happy. Not Italian" (or whatever) similarly "tepidly negative"?

Possibly it is by Judge Posner's thinking, which he elucidated in his decision by writing, "People do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or, for that matter, their way of life." One suspects that lots of people wouldn't classify homosexuality as a belief, akin to Christianity or global warming or that Miley Cyrus is better than Bach, but as an immutable thing--like skin-color or ethnicity. It's good to protect everyone's right to challenge beliefs, generally speaking.??But should students have a protected right, in school, to challenge the validity of another student's being?

Second, and more importantly: Why is Judge Posner even bothering with this? Why is any judge? The answer, of course, is that Tinker established all sorts of k-12 student rights that make it incredibly difficult for administrators to exercise authority on their campuses without ending up in court. A far better route, the one put forth by Justice Clarence Thomas in the recent Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, would be to allow individual school leaders to run their campuses as they see fit. Students should be entitled to a certain level of decorum, though, and allowed to learn without interruption.

Which is why the controversial stuff--passing out birth control; holding sexual education classes; founding clubs for homosexual students; wearing arm-bands that signify one is for/against war; wearing T-shirts that degrade another's views, race, haircut, etc.--needs to be left outside k-12 public schools. Principals would be smart to take this stance. Otherwise, we'll never see an end to the bickering and the judicial rulings. ??????????

Bottom line, the courts are too entrenched in public schools and it's a mess. Principals are right to wonder why their authority to maintain order is in this way stanched.

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