Wearing a Flag of Surrender
If American values can’t rule in schools, where do we expect them to survive?



How loopy has California become? This loopy:

Officials at a Northern California high school acted appropriately when they ordered students wearing American flag T-shirts to turn the garments inside out during the Mexican heritage celebration Cinco de Mayo, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

As a general rule, the eccentric and creative justices that populate the Ninth Circuit have an awful lot to answer for. But for once they may not be the villain of the piece. As the Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh has duly noted, there is precedent for such action, and that precedent holds that schools

have special responsibilities to educate their students and to protect them both against violence and against disruption of their educations. A school might thus have the discretion to decide that it will prevent disruption even at the cost of letting thugs suppress speech.

“Discretion,” of course, is the operative word here. That the First Amendment has been repeatedly found not to apply in schools is disappointing for the plaintiffs and more than a little irritating for free-speech absolutists such as myself. But that a school has seen fit to force the question is infinitely worse. After all, the Ninth Circuit merely indicated what the state of California may do, and not what it should do — a critical distinction, and one that often gets lost in the noise.

The AP’s report recorded that the school board took its action because “administrators feared the American-flag shirts would enflame the passions of Latino students celebrating the Mexican holiday.” Perhaps take a moment and allow that sentence to roll around your mouth, all the while counting just how many seconds it takes for the bitter taste to burn and push at the back of your throat. An American school was faced with the possibility that some of its students would take violent exception to the nation’s flag, and, in response, the school banned . . . the nation’s flag. How, pray, is this possible?

Questions abound. Even if, contrary to all the evidence that has been presented, the problem was perceived to be that certain students were taunting others with Old Glory, shouldn’t those particular students’ behavior be corrected before their instrument itself was censored? (After all, if one child seeks to upset another, do we cut out all of the children’s tongues?)

And if flags themselves are deemed to be at fault, are we to take away from this example that Americans shouldn’t wear them in case they get attacked by barbarians? If so, one has to wonder by what metric we should determine that it is the American and not the foreign flag or holiday that has to go. Here, I can speak only for myself, but as an immigrant to this wonderful country I can assure you that I’d be utterly mortified were I in any way to provoke my new culture into removing or hiding its symbols and totems. Didn’t somebody involved think, “huh”? And, if not, didn’t someone in authority wonder whether it was wise to turn what was almost certainly a local altercation involving only a few bad eggs into a highly symbolic fight that may well be destined for the Supreme Court?