Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (N.D. Cal.), decided the day before yesterday, upholds a California high school’s decision to forbid students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. (See here and here for more on this case.)
The decision might well be correct under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. (1969), which allows a “heckler’s veto” in K-12 school: Schools may indeed restrict student speech when it’s likely to cause substantial disruption, even when the disruption stems from other students’ hostility to the speech. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think the speech restriction violates a California statute that gives students extra protection, but that claim wasn’t raised in this federal lawsuit.
Yet while the judge might have been right in his decision, the situation in the school seems very bad. When we’re at the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — on May 5 or on any other day — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech), something is badly wrong. Here’s an excerpt from the court opinion describing the facts that led the court to uphold the restriction:
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