March 11, 2010

Civil Rights and Misleading Headlines

After reading this article, I felt compelled to talk about the US public school system's problem with overbearing social discipline, and the peculiar wording accompanying this Associated Press article on The article is about a school in Mississippi that canceled their senior prom because the ACLU demanded that they change a certain policy regarding gay couples. The school has a ban on same-sex prom dates, and an 18-year-old lesbian student was planning on wearing a tuxedo.

It should be duly noted that public school's are not bound by strict constitutional guidelines. Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier was part of a Supreme Court precedent which gives public school administrators some leeway in enforcing certain school rules, such as reasonable censorship of school newspapers, or in this case dress codes. On the other hand, Tinker v Des Moines clearly protects students' free expression, so long as school dress codes are designed to promote educational goals. The latter decision is much older than the former, however, and we have a more conservative Court now than when Tinker was decided.

Some may argue that a public school has a right to deny any student access to a non-curricular school function like that of a prom. The ACLU's argument here must be that the school is interpreting its policy (which is probably vaguely worded as "no distracting attire allowed at prom") in such away that explicitly discriminates against homosexuals. What sucks about this AP article is that they give no insight into what the ACLU is saying about this--more on that in a second. Being government institutions, public schools have ZERO right to discriminate on social grounds like this. If this were a private school, the ACLU would have no case and probably would not have bothered the administration.

The subtitle to this article on the front page was "Citing 'distractions,' a school district under pressure from the ACLU calls off prom altogether." This subtitle would lead any rational person to infer that the ACLU demanded that the school cancel prom. This is not the case. The ACLU demands that the school change its discriminatory policy, the school chose on its own behalf to cancel its prom. The way this article is presented on Yahoo, and with the articles' stark omission of any detailed comment from the ACLU, those who may not openly advocate discrimination but nevertheless "disagree" with homosexuality can simply fall back on the classic Bill O'Reilly narrative that the ACLU is a bunch of busy bodies who are at war with Christians and Christianity (despite the fact that the ACLU has represented Christians and fought for their free exercise).

This article doesn't cite the school's official policy at question here; is it actually a ban on homosexuals or just against causing a distraction at the prom, or both? The article says:

"The ACLU filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Oxford to force the school district to sponsor the prom and allow McMillen to bring whom she chooses and wear what she wants."

"AP" now stands for Absolute Phailure.

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