Top legal blog "The Volokh Conspiracy", now at the Washington Post, analyses the recent California 9th Circuit decision that wearing American flag shirts at high school can legally be prohibited. Eugene Volokh notes that the actions of the principal (Mr. Rodriguez) in banning wearing of American flag clothing in fear of it causing violent disruption may be constitutional but not at all a good idea:
This is a classic "heckler's veto" — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. "Heckler's vetoes" are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker's "forecast substantial disruption" test, such a heckler's veto is indeed allowed.I have to confess sympathy for Mr. Rodriguez in his predicament - his job is to ensure order and prevent disruption at his school, and students who wear the American flag did seem very prone to be correlated with disruption:
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."Now there are plenty of legal Mexican immigrants in the USA, so we shouldn't assume anything about the angry student's immigration status, but if (for instance) a student of Scottish heritage took offense to a Live Oak student wearing an American flag on St. Andrew's Day and threatened him "I'll cae the pins o' ye!" I can't imagine Mr. Rodriguez reacting the same way. The principal does seem to be bowing to the opinions of a category of "guest" students in preference to those who are citizens of the country. (Irish students aren't likely to cause problems on St Patrick's Day because it's celebrated in the USA as much if not more than in Ireland).
If you want to know more about what Live Oak High School is like, take a look at the California department of education stats for the school. It's about 50-50 demographic split between white and Hispanic/Latino students. The standardised scoring indicates that white, Asian and black students improved significantly in the past academic year but the Hispanic/Latino students went backwards. It seems that pandering to them isn't doing them any favours academically. Incidentally, I'm dubious about the "Two or more races" stats - only 1 student of mixed heritage out of 858? My arse.
I can do no better than quote Volokh's takeaway:
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?If Live Oak High School really wants to help its Hispanic/Latino students, it should insist that they meet the standards expected of all other students.