Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

March 1, 2014

A victory for hecklers

On Thursday, an appeals court upheld a California high school’s decision to forbid students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo.

In Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, the court pointed out that the rights of students in public high schools are limited under a 1969 Supreme Court ruling (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District) that said student speech could be restricted if “school authorities [can reasonably] forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” stemming from the speech. And on the facts of this case, the court concluded, there was reason to think that the wearing of the T-shirts would lead to disruption. There had been threats of racial violence aimed at students who wore such shirts the year before:

“On Cinco de Mayo in 2009, a year before the events relevant to this appeal, there was an altercation on campus between a group of predominantly Caucasian students and a group of Mexican students. The groups exchanged profanities and threats. Some students hung a makeshift American flag on one of the trees on campus, and as they did, the group of Caucasian students began clapping and chanting ‘USA.’ A group of Mexican students had been walking around with the Mexican flag, and in response to the white students’ flag-raising, one Mexican student shouted ‘(expletive) them white boys, (expletive) them white boys.’ When Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez told the student to stop using profane language, the student said, ‘But Rodriguez, they are racist. They are being racist. (Expletive) them white boys. Let’s (expletive) them up.’ Rodriguez removed the student from the area. “At least one party to this appeal, student M.D., wore American flag clothing to school on Cinco de Mayo 2009. M.D. was approached by a male student who, in the words of the district court, ‘shoved a Mexican flag at him and said something in Spanish expressing anger at [M.D.’s] clothing.’”

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