Oak High School In Morgan Hill, California is now ground zero for a free speech controversy after five students were told to turn their tee-shirts with American flags inside out and remove flag bandannas from their heads. The reason was that it was viewed as inappropriate on Cinco de Mayo day.
The students were sitting at an outside table when Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez confronted them about their tee-shirts.
Daniel Galli and his four friends refused to comply and were ordered to go to the principal’s office. They say that they were told that their tee-shirts would be appropriate on any other day, but it was viewed as insensitive on Cinco de Mayo.
The boys went home because they were told they would be suspended if they went back to class wearing the offensive shirts.
I find this whole story disturbing. Putting aside the overheated rhetoric from hard-right commentators, I do view this as a violation of the free speech rights of the students. Just as students should feel free to wear a Mexican flag tee-shirt on the Fourth of July, public schools are diverse in not only their demographics but their views. They are microcosms of society and we should be reinforcing speech rights, not teaching children to comply with the fluid and subjective views of authority figures. It is also not a good way to promote tolerance among different groups by telling some students that the American flag is insulting. There should be no conflict in wearing an American flag while celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The students are not accused of offensive speech or conduct beyond wearing the shirts. They may indeed have worn the flags out of some antagonism for the holiday, but, absent misconduct, the officials went too far in ordering them to change their shirts or leave school. It teaches the worst possible lesson to students (and future citizens) about the rights of speech and association.
For the full story, click here.