By Harvey Silverglate
The constant war between kids who want to say what they
believe and high school administrators who want, above all else, to keep the
peace on their watch rages on. The latest battle is at Albemarle County and
Charlottesville Public Schools in (appropriately enough) Virginia, where
certain teachers reportedly asked culturally conservative teenage girls to turn
inside-out t-shirts with the slogan “Virginity Rocks,"
so as to hide the message.
The non-profit Rutherford
Institute, which seeks to promote, through legal activism, Christian
conservative and religious causes and issues, jumped into the fray and wrote
the school system a letter threatening litigation. It appears that litigation
will not be necessary, since the school officials replied that Rutherford was under a misapprehension, and that the
officials were not prohibiting the wearing of the t-shirts after all.
And it’s a
good thing, too, since the First Amendment to the Constitution
would very likely protect the wearing of such t-shirts, as well as t-shirts
with a counter message (although one can imagine illustrations to the counter-message
that might not make it through the Supreme Court’s Fraser opinion
that draws a line at vulgarity. And, under an even more recent (and very
unfortunate, for liberty) Supreme Court decision, there’s an exception for
the lines drawn in the constant wars between high school (and sometimes younger)
students who want to express themselves, and administrators who are comfortable
only with their own views on things, are not the model of constitutional and
legal clarity. And notions of academic freedom, in theory more absolute at the
college level than in lower grades, have limited applicability in high school
and even less in elementary school. But the question one asks time and again in
these cases is why school administrators get involved in the first place. These
kids seem capable of having sometimes uncomfortable yet civil (or at least
non-violent) dialogues. It’s too bad the same can’t be said about all of their
teachers and administrators.