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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Straight Pride in my Son's School and Free Speech

The response from my first essay on the Straight Pride T Shirts http://open.salon.com/blog/william_elliott/2010/11/15/straight_pride_at_my_sons_high_school with the death threatening Bible quote on the back at a my son's high school brought so many interesting responses that I thought I would take it on one more time. Of course the whole issue boils down to our concept of Free Speech. The lawyers who responded make the case that these students with thier death threat T shirts are covered under the right of Free Speech and should be allowed to wear their shirts regardless of how offensive. Others did not agree and this is the jumping off point.

Fag is a word used when I was in school and it was uttered  mightily and in secret. No one would have dared to put the word on a T shirt and they would have gotten about as far as the entrance and then it would have been a short hop skip and a jump to the Principals office sans T Shirt. Now there would have been no open outcry over the T shirt wearers right of Free Speech. No one would have bought it then and frankly no one considered students had any rights at all. They were students in high school and expected to operate under the social mores and rules that govern the school.

Not so much today. We hear more and more of Free Speech rights with the individual trumping the common good. The common good. There is no law book delineating this point but we operate most of our lives under the mores and restraints of the common good. We would  not tolerate Klans Men in our schools going to classes in their sheets and hoods.We would not tolerate White Pride T shirts with a Death to All Blacks on the back. These would be quickly deemed unacceptable for the school, the community and ultimately the common good. Individual Free Speech rights would take it on the chin.

The sad truth is the White Pride T shirts complete with biblical death threat are nothing different that picking out the effeminate boy and calling him a fag. Both actions are coercive, intimidating, and trample on Free Speech Rights of the individual being targeted. As others have pointed out such threats are downright dangerous and if sanctioned by the school give the student permission to take his T shirt mantra a little further. Certainly the school saw the Death Threat component of the T Shirt with a zero tolerance view in mind and had the students black out the quote with a marker.

Again the lawyers will object. There is all sorts of legal precedence giving these students the right to wear their T shirts under the protection of Free Speech. But this should not be the last word. The community does have rights and if we don't operate under a common sense if not decency umbrella then we would all be in court twenty four seven. To say nothing that this school has thirteen and fourteen year olds, children, and I would ask who protects their rights against the threatening incantations of the wearers of Leviticus? Ultimately, we have to decide what type of world we want to live in and what type of world we will accept. Hate in any form should be cast out and made the pariah. So far the school has spoken for the will of the people and maybe the common good.

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Books by William Hazelgrove