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EDITORIAL: The Star-Spangled ban

The judges, like the kids at this school, need a teaching moment

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Old Glory just can't catch a break in the courts. Judges have said you can do anything with the American flag, burn it, step on it, spit on it. Twenty-five years ago the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment right of the "Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade" to set fire to a stolen flag as an expression of free speech. Last week, an appellate court in San Francisco (naturally) decided that kids can't wear a T-shirt with the Stars and Stripes on it lest it offend someone.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that administrators at Live Oak High School outside San Jose were right to punish a handful of students who wore American flag clothing on Cinco de Mayo, a day when many Mexican immigrants celebrate Mexican pride. Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez said the symbol of American pride was verboten because it might spark a riot.

Rather than deal with violent students, he cracked down on those who had committed no crime. Students who wouldn't take off their offending shirts were sent home. Some of them later received telephone threats from gangbangers with threats to "take care of" the flag-wearers.

The threatened students sued, saying their First Amendment rights were infringed. A three-judge panel of the notoriously liberal appellate court was more impressed by the schoolmaster. "We hold that school officials, namely Rodriguez, did not act unconstitutionally," the court concluded.

The court said clothing emblazoned with the Mexican flag was acceptable because Anglo students weren't threatening to beat up anyone wearing the Mexican flag. "The [Anglo] students offered no evidence that students at a similar risk of danger were treated differently," the judge said, "and therefore no evidence of impermissible viewpoint discrimination."

This is about more than political correctness run amok. Amok is the natural state of the judges of the 9th Circuit, who suggested a way for school administrators to impose their personal political beliefs. Shirts warning of the end of the world from global warming would be OK, but a shirt imprinted with the U.S. Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution would not be OK, because it would be dangerous.

The primary duty of a school administrator is to enable students in his keep to learn in a safe environment. That's where the judges, like the school administrator, went wrong. Pandering to malcontents rewards bad behavior. A teaching moment about what Old Glory represents is exactly what this classroom needs, assuming there's a teacher capable of teaching it.

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