Court: U.S. flag is unsafe at U.S. school

Flag T-shirts banned on Cinco de Mayo in Morgan Hill

Daniel Galli, Austin Carvalho, Matthew Dariano and Dominic Maciel and (not shown) Clayton Howard were asked to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out or go home when they wore them to Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill on Cinco de Mayo. (Julie Fagerstrom)

It’s not safe to display the American flag at an American high school, writes Eugene Volokh in his Washington Post blog. The Ninth Circuit Court upheld a California high school’s decision to forbid students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo because Mexican-American students had threatened violence the year before.

Under the Supreme Court’s Tinker decision, student speech may be restricted if “school authorities [can reasonably] forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” stemming from the speech. The earlier threats of racial violence justified the flag ban, the court ruled.

This is a classic “heckler’s veto” — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. “Heckler’s vetoes” are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker‘s “forecast substantial disruption” test, such a heckler’s veto is indeed allowed.

“Schools have special responsibilities to educate their students and to protect them both against violence and against disruption of their educations,” writes Volokh, a UCLA law professor. But what a sad situation.

Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

Live Oak High School students have learned a simple lesson, Volokh concludes. “If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers.” Thuggery pays.

Teacher suspended for stomping on flag

A high school teacher in South Carolina  has been placed on long-term administrative leave on charges he threw a U.S. flag on the floor and stepped on it in a lesson on symbols, reports The Daily Caller.

Scott Compton, an English teacher at Chapin High School in Chapin, S.C., repeated the act in three classes, reports WIS-TV.

“He drew a couple of symbols, like one of them was a cross, and he said, ‘What does this represent,’ and everybody said, ‘Christianity,’” (parent Michael) Copeland explained to WIS.

“Then he proceeds to take down the American flag, and said, ‘This is a symbol, but it’s only a piece of cloth. It doesn’t mean anything,’ and then he throws it down on the floor and then stomps on it, repeatedly,” Copeland continued.

According to Copeland’s daughter, the teacher told students there would be no consequences, because “it’s just a piece of cloth that doesn’t mean anything.”

Perhaps the teacher meant to say that he couldn’t be arrested for stepping on the flag — or the cross. But there are consequences for angering people by disrespecting symbols they honor.

Student told not to fly U.S. flag

On the eve of Veteran’s Day, a California eighth-grader was told not to fly the U.S. flag on his bicycle because Mexican-American students objected.  It was for his own safety, said Denair Superintendent Edward Parraz.

“(The) First Amendment is important,” Parraz said. “We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsibility.”

Parraz said racial tensions boiled over at the school this year around the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

“Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want,” Parraz said. “We want them to appreciate the cultures.”

Cody Alicea, 13, has been riding to school with the flag since the start of the school year. He folds it — correctly — and puts it in his backpack when he gets to campus.

Once the story got to TV, the superintendent said Cody can fly the flag.

Flag flap follow-up

After five Live Oak High students were sent home for wearing U.S. flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo, some Live Oak High students wore white and purple to school as a sign of unity.  Others marched to Morgan Hill’s City Hall to demand respect for Mexican traditions. The student protesters “discussed a possible community-wide celebration of diversity and asked for ideas about how to bring the community together, said the city manager.

I think the best way to bring the community together is to avoid a “celebration of diversity” and focus on what students have in common.

Update: Live Oak High hides a “racist secret,” writes Bob Owens on Pajamas Media. The school has a MECHA club for Mexican-American students with some separationist rhetoric about rclaiming Aztlan on its web site. There are lots of MECHA clubs at California high schools and colleges and I don’t see them as a sinister force.  They give kids who might otherwise feel like outsiders a sense of belonging. Let me ask California teachers: Does MECHA push kids to resist assimilation? Is it good, bad, or neutral?