On May 5, 2010, four students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California, were sent home for refusing to turn their t-shirts inside out. The t-shirts each depicted an American flag theme. They wore them to school on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebrated holiday.
School officials, fearing violence, told the boys to turn their shirts inside out for the day. The boys refused so they were sent home for the day. The parents of the boys sued the school and two administrators claiming they violated the boys' civil rights of freedom of expression, equal protection under the law and due process.
The case ended up being heard by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals who decided the school and administrators did have the authority to ban the t-shirts out of safety concerns of student violence. Apparently the school had experienced violent incidents in the past centered around Cinco de Mayo when students who celebrated America on that day were threatened.
The 9th Circuit Court, considered the most liberal in the country, declared that students' First Amendment rights could be suspended by school officials for safety purposes and that the school was within its rights to do so. They also said since only students wearing American flags were threatened, students could still wear flags from other countries, such as Mexico.
So a United States court decided the display of the American flag can now be overruled by the display of a flag from another country if enough people get upset about it. That actually sounds illegal to me. But coming from that particular district it's not surprising.
I'm curious as to why, if the school has experienced violence and threats in the past, that they allow the celebration of a Mexican holiday in the first place? Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a famous battle that Mexico won over the army of Napoleon III back in 1862. It is mostly celebrated in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage. In and of itself I have no problem if people of Mexican heritage want to celebrate it. But when they act as if the USA is Mexico for the day and threaten fellow students who disagree it gets a little out of hand.
Dry Oak High School is a public school funded with tax-payer money. If the celebration of Mexican holidays causes such disruption then the holiday itself should be banned from the school.
Eugene Volokh from the Washington Post (a liberal newspaper) said the ruling is an example of "heckler's veto, in which speech can be limited to preent violence from a group of individuals rather than punish the individuals threatening the violence. He takes issue with the decision: "This is especially worrisome because behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. The school taught its students a simple lesson: If you dislike speech and want it suppressed then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers. The school will cave in, the speakers will be shut up, and you and your ideology will win. When thuggery pays the result is more thuggery. Is that the education we want our students to be getting?"
I must agree. Did the boys in question wear the t-shirts to cause tension? Probably. Should they have a right to display American flags on Cinco de Mayo in the United States of America? Absolutely. Are there more problems between Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students at that high school than just a disagreement on Cinco de Mayo? I would bet on it.