One for Dixie
A California student was disciplined for wearing a similar t-shirt to school as the anti-gay group at Homewood-Flossmoor, and the 9th District Court of Appeals upheld the suspension on the grounds that the words could create a harmful environment for homosexual students and their sympathisers. This seemingly runs counter to the same court's ruling in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case heard by the Supreme Court this term (decision pending), where the Tinker standard upholding student speech rights at the schoolhouse gate was applied in both cases. The caveat here is the "material and substantial" disruption exception of Tinker applied in the first case.
This brings us to the topic of today's discussion, namely, whether or not students who wear clothing adorned with the Confederate Flag constitute "material and substantial disruptions" as a result of their wardrobe. Leaving debates about Southern heritage and symbols of slavery aside, the key issue in a recent West Virginia case (and a series of others across the country) was whether the school implicated in the suit had a history of racial tensions. Hurricane High School in Putnam County, WV, apparently doesn't, and the right of senior Franklin Bragg to wear t-shirts and a belt buckle with the Confederate Flag thus protected by Tinker according to a federal judge.
While I do not quarrel with the outcome of the case, I am perplexed by the rationale used to arrive at such a conclusion. What constitutes evidence of racial tensions? How recent need such instances be to trigger a constitutional clothing ban? What if wearing clothing adorned by the Confederate Flag ignites racial unrest? Need the connection be direct? While I eagerly await word from the Supreme Court on the current state of student speech, I am skeptical that their pending decision will shed further light on these questions. Unless the high court continues to enter the student speech arena, a local and regional patchwork of inconsistency will remain the likely result in this realm.