Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sorry: Patriotism Is Not Welcome Here

It has been too long since I posted here, and much has happened in the interim. I do want to talk about the #Occupy movement, both in theory and in practice, but that post will require more time than I have tonight, and I want to get something posted (among other things, I promised someone who included me on their blogroll that I’d post at least once a month… a promise I technically didn’t quite keep, as it is).

Anyway, one of the stories that attracted little attention amidst the horrific actions of police across the country and the antics of whoever happens to be the current GOP Flavor of the Month, is the follow-up to an incident I outlined a year and a half ago. Here was my take at the time:
In Morgan Hill, CA, a group of five boys wore American flag clothing—bandanas, shirts, shorts—and were told that such apparel was inappropriate. So far, it sounds like something from my youth: in those halcyon days, clothing featuring a flag motif was often worn by protesters against the Vietnam War, and, because such designs tended to be found on the seats of jeans, or in other places where the symbol might touch the ground or otherwise be defaced, we were forbidden to wear anything with an American flag. Now, of course, such apparel is considered patriotic.

Anyway, these guys show up at school wearing this stuff and the Head Moron Assistant Principal tells them they’ve got to take it off, go home, or face suspension. You see, it was Cinco de Mayo, and expressions of American patriotism were deemed insensitive to Hispanic students. OK, I’ll say this once: Give me a damned break.
A month or so later, the boys’ parents filed suit: their lawyer spelled out what they wanted: “‘We’re not seeking money damages, we are asking the court for an order that the school acted unconstitutionally by restricting the students first amendment rights. And we are also asking the court for an injunctive relief, indicating the school is forbidden from practicing those policies in the future,’ said Attorney William Becker.”

All things considered, that was a pretty reasonable demand, given the state of the American judicial system, in which suing people for the most insignificant of slights has become de rigeur.

Now comes word that the suit was dismissed by federal judge James Ware (yes, that would be the James Ware whose nomination to the Court of Appeals in 1997-98 was derailed by evidence that he is a serial liar. For the record, he was appointed to his current post by Bush I and subsequently nominated to the Court of Appeals by Clinton: he is, then, a non-partisan incompetent). The defendants—the school district and the (now former) Principal and (still, apparently) Assistant Principal—argued:
• that the claim against the district was banned by the 11th amendment
• that free speech rights don’t apply in this case because the school officials suspected the potential for “disruption”
• that the plaintiffs offered no evidence they were discriminated against
• that the school’s dress code provides “adequate notice of what attire is prohibited”
OK, I’m not a lawyer, so I look at what makes sense, not what legal precedent might be. The fact that “the Ninth Circuit has consistently held in California, because of the manner in which funds are dispersed to school districts by the state, school districts are agencies of the state for sovereign immunity purposes” tells me only that the Ninth Circuit may well have been home to some rather dim bulbs over the years.

More importantly, the whole “potential for disruption” argument is now, and frankly always has been, little more than an excuse for intellectual cowardice. It’s what gets controversial speakers uninvited from college campuses. It’s what justifies the worst excesses of “political correctness.” It’s what craven administrators, mayors, and police chiefs hide behind when they really, really, really want to censor speech (cf. the #Occupy folks) but know they have to circumvent that pesky First Amendment somehow.

Which brings us to the most colossally, stupendously, mind-meltingly inane part of Judge Ware’s cretinous decision:
Defendants have provided a non-discriminatory basis for asking Plaintiffs to remove their American flag attire. Defendants have put forth significant evidence demonstrating that Plaintiffs were asked to change clothes in order to protect their own safety. Plaintiffs have not offered any evidence demonstrating that students wearing the colors of the Mexican flag were targeted for violence. To the contrary, the undisputed evidence shows that Plaintiffs were the only students on campus whose safety was threatened that day, at least to the knowledge of Defendants. In addition, Defendant Rodriguez [the Assistant Principal] has testified that he did not see any students wearing the Mexican flag on their clothing during the day. He also testified that he did not see any students with Mexican flags displayed on their person until he saw photos in the newspaper in the days following Cinco de Mayo.
Ware therefore dismissed the “equal protection” argument. Please, someone, tell me that Ware is indeed the stupidest federal judge in the country, because if he isn’t, then all is lost. Let’s parse out what passes for argument here. Basically, it boils down to this:

“You have freedom of speech unless you do something completely inoffensive—as evidenced by the statement at the time that the students are free to wear American flag clothing any other day of the school year—that some over-sensitive jackass who disagrees with you might use as a pretense for violence. In that case, of course, it is not that student’s right to commit a felony that ought to be curtailed, but your 1st Amendment rights to free expression. Moreover, since the Assistant Principal can’t be expected to do his damned job and know what’s going on in the school, he can claim that your self-evident claim to unequal treatment doesn’t really hold because he didn’t see what everyone else in the school saw... and what appeared in the local media.” [I think he’s bucking for a job in the UC-Davis administration.]

Seriously, what would happen if the roles were reversed: if it were the Hispanic students who were prevented from expressing their ethnic pride on this trumped-up holiday little celebrated in their ancestral homeland because of the threat of violence from a gang of Anglo punks? How condescending would the “for your own protection” pabulum sound? How stupid would suppressing the inoffensive in order to pander to the potentially violent seem? How outraged would the left-leaning punditry (other than moi, bien sûr) be?

I have little doubt that the plaintiffs in this case are right little assholes, and quite possibly racists. But anyone who thinks Judge Ware would have ruled the same way had it been the “minority” students whose rights were being infringed is stupider than he is. And that’s saying rather a lot.

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