Thursday, May 6, 2010

Don't Wear the American Flag to Live Oak High School on Cinco de Mayo

President Obama spoke yesterday on Cinco de Mayo and warned against treating any people different than the rest of us. In criticizing Arizona’s immigration bill, he stated: “You can’t start singling out people because of who they look like or how they talk or how they dress.”

Live Oak High School yesterday gave preference to Mexican American students.

Over 100 Mexican American students wore the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag on Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the victory of the Mexican forces over the French Army on May 5, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The holiday, which is technically not Mexican Independence Day, is widely celebrated in the United States, but not so much in Mexico.

Five non-Mexican American students exercised poor judgment, but the bravado one expects from high school students. They wanted to speak up for America. They wore American Flag t-shirts, and two also wore American Flag bandannas.

The school has a ban on bandannas, but not t-shirts.

The Assistant Principal, Miguel Rodriquez, asked them to remove the bandannas and turn the shirts inside out. If not, they would be sent home. Nick Boden, the Principal, backed up his Assistant principal. The bandannas were removed but not the shirts.

The boys went home, thus sparking an outrage over the disrespect shown to the American Flag, and political correctness run amuck.

In fairness to Miguel Rodriquez, he explained to the five students that any other day would be OK for them to wear their American Flag t-shirts, but on this special day for the Mexican students, he was afraid of their t-shirts being not only insensitive, but incendiary. He wanted to avoid confrontations.

That’s a fair perspective on its face, but it’s unconstitutional, poor judgment, and bad policy and politics.

The Morgan Hill School Board said the actions of the Principal and Vice Principal did not comply with board or district policy. But are they going to discipline them? Will they be removed? Will they be reprimanded? Probably not!

The school district would be within its rights to impose a dress code, especially one that requires uniforms. In that way, all would be treated equally. It might also ban team shirts that become gang symbols.

But it cannot prefer the speech rights of one ethnicity over another.

If Mexican American, or Iranian American, or Armenian Americans, or Irish Americans, or Italian Americans, or Polish Americans, or Romanian Americans, or Korean Americans wish to wear their colors to school, they can do so.

By all means, celebrate your heritage, your culture, your values. That is part of the American greatness for America will build your heritage into the American culture.

Bad taste? Poor judgment of our 5 non-Hispanic students (although reports are that two of the five are of Hispanic descent)?

Sure, but that’s protected by the First Amendment. It’s call freedom of speech- the freedom to take contrarian positions, the freedom to engage in robust, caustic, indeed vitriolic, debates, the freedom to take unwise positions, and even appear as a fool.

The judgment of the five on Cinco de Mayo was poor, just as if the other students wore their Mexican Flag t-shirts to a public 4th of July Fireworks show in America.

They have that right, the same right a Vietnamese vendor has in Little Saigon in Orange County to fly the North Vietnamese Flag - A stupid exercise of that right, but one protected by the First Amendment.

Had the five really meant to show disrespect, they could have worn border patrol t-shirts, like 15 students did at Pioneer High School, down the road in neighboring San Jose.

Bad taste includes the action of campus Young Republicans a few years ago. They engaged in bake sales to protest the discriminatory nature of affirmative action. The baked goods would be priced by color – a highly symbolic, and perhaps inflammatory, act.

Some colleges, such as the University of California Irvine, banned the sales. That too was a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of the Young Republicans.

Many universities, including some of our large, prestigious public universities, tried to impose speech codes a few years back. These codes would penalize broadly defined “hate speech,” words, speeches, and writings that could be viewed as offensive to vulnerable groups. The landmark decision striking down these codes was in 1999 against the University of Michigan.

If the act of the Assistant Principal were prompted by complaints from the Mexican American students, then the conduct of these students was legal and correct, but politically naive.

At the same time you are seeking protection of the American flag, especially in the name of immigration reform, you should not be disparaging the same flag. It attracts more opposition to immigrants.

A few years ago a large immigration rights rally in Los Angeles attracted tens of thousands. Thousands were waving Mexican national flags. That was a political mistake.

A few years before that, a soccer match was held at the LA Coliseum, featuring the national teams of Mexico and the United States. 90% of the fans were Hispanic, and the Mexican flag was ubiquitous. I have no problem with that.

Americans are not a race, ethnicity, or religion. We are the melting pot of the world. The unifying symbol of America is the Flag. The Flag proclaims us as Americans.

We pledge allegiance to the Flag, not to a person, king, queen, tsar, sultan, emir, god, government, state, party, or ism.

Thus, respect our Flag as you celebrate yours.

A unifying theme is the Constitution, especially the Bill of rights and Freedom of Speech.

The Supreme Court held in 1989 and 1990 that the First Amendment protects the right to burn the American Flag as protected speech.

As I understand it then, it’s OK to burn the flag, but not to wear it.

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