Intruding Upon the Constitution by the Religious Right

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky, of Peoria, Ill., ordered all parish priests in his diocese to read a letter to their congregations condemning Barack Obama. The letter, to be read the weekend before the election, declared that Obama and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate had launched an “assault upon our religious freedom.”

He wasn’t the only priest who used the pulpit to attack the President. Bishop David Lauren of Green Bay, Wisc., told his congregations that voting for Obama and other candidates who were pro-choice or who believed in embryonic stem cell research or gay marriage could put their “soul in jeopardy.” Others, primarily from evangelical Protestant faiths, were even more adamant in their religious intolerance, declaring that voting for Obama would definitely condemn their souls to Hell.

Southern Baptist evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said President Obama was “waving his fist before God” by supporting same-sex marriage and women’s abortion rights. In full-page newspaper ads, shortly before the election, the 94-year-old Billy Graham, whose words may have been written by his son, declared that Americans should vote for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles.” Those principles, according to the ad, include opposition to same-sex marriage. A spokesman for the Grahams said that neither person endorses candidates. However, Billy Graham reportedly told Romney he would do “all I can to help you,” and removed Mormonism from a list of cults on one of their web pages. In February, Franklin Graham, who earns about $600,000 a year as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared that Obama had plans to create “a new nation without God or perhaps under many gods.”

The re-election of President Obama didn’t stop the attacks. The Rev. Jerry Priscano, a Catholic priest from Erie, Pa., said Obama was the anti-Christ. On his Facebook page, he declared, “It will only be a matter of time before our nation is completely destroyed,” and that Hurricane Sandy, apparently a sign from God to the liberal northeast, “was only the beginning.”

A Pew Forum study of the 2012 vote showed that white Catholics favored Romney (59%–40%), Hispanic Catholics overwhelming supported Obama (75–21). Romney also had the evangelical Christians (79–20), and other Protestants (57–42). Although Romney pandered to Jewish voters, claiming he would be Israel’s best friend, and that Obama couldn’t be trusted, Jews went for Obama (69–30). The Pew exit poll measured only persons who identified themselves as Jews or Christians.

Factoring into the vote against Barack Obama is religious bigotry that drips with the hatred of anything not Christian. About one-fourth of all White evangelical Protestants believe he is a Muslim, although the President goes to a Protestant church and has never held Muslim values or beliefs. In one of the great leaps of faith, evangelicals also believe Obama is a “godless socialist Muslim,” something much rarer than a Klan leader voting for a Black Jew for president. Overall, about one-sixth of Americans believe he is Muslim, according to a poll by Public Religion Research Institute. Ironically, most evangelical Protestants also believe Mormonism is a non-Christian cult and refused to support Mitt Romney in the primaries. Faced by a “Muslim” and a Mormon in the general election, the evangelicals supported the Mormon, who had flip-flopped from moderate to conservative to get the nomination and then tried tacking slightly to the center for the general election.

The right-wing believe that America is a Christian nation and should elect only like-minded Christians to office. Even many Christian religions, such as Unitarianism, are suspect in the eyes of those who absolutely believe they absolutely know God’s intent, and everyone else is wrong. They support Israel, far closer to being a socialist nation than the U.S. ever will be, as a Biblical necessity, but would be conflicted if a Jew should ever become a major party candidate for president.

The religious bigots claim the U.S. was founded by Christians and is a Christian nation—or, reluctantly, say it is a Judeo-Christian nation. But, no matter how much they screech, the facts don’t support their beliefs. George Washington declared, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams and the Senate later ratified a treaty with those exact words.

Most of the Founding Fathers were primarily deists, not Christians, and specifically rejected many Christian beliefs, including the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and that the Bible was written by God. They also believed that God, having given mankind the power of reason, then stayed out of the lives of His people. Among the deists were Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe. But they and the other Founding Fathers were explicit in their declaration, embedded into the First Amendment that established the principle that all people had a right to their own religious beliefs.

Several distinguished historians (including Drs. James McGregor Burns and Richard Hofstadter, each of whom won the Pulitzer Prize for history) have pointed out that in 1776 and much of the 19th century, as much as 90 percent of the population did not identify with the Christian church.

There is another aspect to the First Amendment, often overlooked by those who don’t know history or Constitutional law, yet believe they do. Jefferson, in his first year as president, in a letter to a Baptist congregation, referred to the intent of one of the five parts of the First Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” Numerous times, the Founding Fathers had reaffirmed this separation, creating what became known as the “establishment clause” in 1787. Several rulings by the Supreme Court reaffirmed this doctrine.

However, 28 percent of Americans, according to a Nate Silver poll in February, don’t believe there is a Constitutional separation of church and state. The Constitutionally-ignorant have established religious tests for persons seeking political office. It should make no difference if Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It should also make no difference if Barack Obama is or is not a Muslim, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Vodun, Vodouist, or even an atheist.

But it may be a Hindu, Gandhi, who has last the last word. Discussing his experience with missionaries in South Africa, he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He was specific in his dislike for some, but not all, Christians. He had never met the extreme right-wing.

 [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which looks at religion, history, and social issues.]

           

 

 

 

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

 Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

 Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

 

 

 

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

 Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

 Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

 

 

 

Splitting Hairs in a Multi-Cultural School

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Sasha Rivera is a 15-year-old sophomore at the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School (MACS) in Philadelphia.

She’s an honors student who never got into trouble at school, and volunteers at Motivos, a national magazine for Hispanic youth.

She also has blue bangs in her dark brown hair. For that reason, she isn’t attending class.

Sasha and her principal, James Higgins, agree that Sasha came to school on Thursday, May 24, and had blue in her hair.

“In the hallway, he turned to me and said my hair color has to go,” says Sasha. She says that Higgins told her that unnatural hair color is against school rules. “He said it was in the [student] handbook,” she says.

MACS has a uniform policy, mandating specific clothes students must wear to class, what kind of jewelry and makeup, and even the only two colors of nail polish allowed. The only statement about hair is that it “should be neatly groomed.” However, there is an ambiguous sentence, “Any appearance deemed by the school staff to be inappropriate in an educational setting is not allowed.” That sentence deliberately leads to arbitrary, discretionary, and capricious interpretation that can pose legal challenges. “The whim of an administrator on one particular day does not constitute a rule or regulation,” Jenée Chizick, Motivos publisher, wrote in Sasha’s defense to the chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Higgins says that students can only have “natural hair color.” He has no objections if students wish to dye their hair honey blonde or raven, since he considers those to be natural hair colors. Apparently, highlights and lowlights in female hair are also acceptable. By that logic, there can’t be any objection to teens having white or gray hair, since they are “natural” colors. But, blue or green streaks, highlights, and bangs are not acceptable.

Higgins says he made the decision to exclude Sasha from classes the first day he noticed she had “unnatural” hair color.

However, Sasha has a different story. In her freshman year, she says she had streaks of orange, green, blue, and even blonde in her hair. “I was just experimenting,” she says. For several months in her sophomore year, she had semi-permanent green streaks, but she says no one confronted her. About a week before she was told to get rid of the color or not attend class, she had the blue highlights on her bangs.

“Every day I come to school I go in the front door,” says Sasha, “and he’s always there to greet us and check our uniforms.” Even if he missed all those days, he might have seen her, with green bangs on the cover of Motivos. Sasha had proudly brought the magazine to school to share with her teachers and guidance counselor. The photograph was taken March 22, so it had been two months that the principal and the teachers either didn’t notice or care about the color of her hair. Her FaceBook picture shows her with the blue color. She doesn’t know why her principal picked that one particular day to tell her she could not attend class because of her hair color.

Sasha was selected to participate as a Youth Media Ambassador to Colombia, with Motivos for 12 days in late June. She didn’t have trouble getting a passport, complete with a picture of her and her blue-streaked hair. Apparently, her hair color posed no threat to the American image abroad.

Higgins claims he told Sasha she was not dismissed from school. “She can come back any time she has natural hair,” he says. He says he even told her that teachers would give her packets of homework, and she could work in the school office and she could take finals there. But she couldn’t attend class. Sasha and her father, Jaime, wonder why having blue color bangs is somehow acceptable if the student can sit in an office, with students, staff, and faculty walking in all the time, but not acceptable for class.

Jaime Rivera, who supports his daughter and vigorously protested the decision, says he told the administration, ‘You’re denying her an education.” He says he tries “to show my daughter what is right and what its wrong, and to stand up for herself.”

Sasha says other students never complained or made fun of her, nor has her grades slipped because of her appearance. But, Higgins and a strict school policy places appearance as a primary condition in education.

“We are a very strict school, and decorum is very important,” he says. He emphasizes that clothes and appearance are important for success. He says the school, which sends almost every one of its graduates to college, must prepare the students for college-level work. But, when told that college students often have hair colors and styles that he may not think “natural,” he changes first to emphasize the quality of the academic program and then to emphasize that students need to get jobs—and “unnatural” hair color “is not appropriate for job interviews.”

Apparently, under his and the school board’s belief, Marilyn Monroe, Pink, and several hundred thousand white-haired ladies with light blue washes are unemployable. Also unemployable, in this administrator’s thinking, could be Marines who wear their hair “high and tight.” Students who wish to emulate Albert Einstein, Kenny G., Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Steve Jobs would be told those hair styles are not appropriate, certainly not the kind that some corporate executive and staff at MACS would wear.

Because MACS, a charter school, receives significant public funds it falls within Constitutional jurisdiction on freedom of expression issues. Most student rights issues date to 1969 in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Tinker v. Des Moines case, which decided that students and faculty do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, notes that courts often rule “Speech and dress is a communicative right to transmit that message” as long as it isn’t disruptive. Higgins acknowledges Sasha’s appearance wasn’t disruptive to the educational process.

In the absence of a specific school policy and the disruption of the normal school day, “There is no basis for the administration’s decision,” says Dr. Robert E. Gates, chair of the Department of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Bloomsburg University.

“There’s strong legal support for the student who wants to color her hair, since in most places the courts place the burden on the public school official who wants to claim the speech/symbolic expression would disrupt the school,” says Dr. Tom Eveslage, professor of journalism at Temple University, and a specialist in First Amendment law.

About half of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals “are receptive to students’ claims of free-expression rights concerning their hair,” according to the First Amendment Center. The other half, including the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, have not been as receptive. Nevertheless, according to the First Amendment Center, “Generally, courts that have found a constitutional issue have ruled . . . that a student’s choice of hair color and style represents either a First Amendment free-expression issue or a 14th Amendment liberty or equal protection issue.”

Adam Goldstein notes that schools could regulate hair color and appearance if “people don’t understand the message.” If Sasha Rivera had a T-shirt with a message that declared blue highlights is a protest against an illogical dress code, “that would be protected speech,” says Goldstein. If she handed out flyers to protest the policies of the school, “that would also be protected” by all courts, he says.

Goldstein suggests that the principal’s demand for “natural” hair color “is monumentally dishonest in that [he believes] students somehow can’t function within presence of someone who has blue in her hair.” The school board and its administrators, says Goldstein, “should be asking, ‘Does this rule make any sense?’ and ‘What is the best way to learn?’ not ‘what is the best way to appear?’”

A letter from Frank L. Mannino, dean of students, on June 4 advised Jaime Rivera that Sasha was subject to administrative failure. Because of previous unexcused absences—some to deal with her mother’s extended illness, the others because of not being allowed in class—Sasha had exceeded the 25 absences the school allows and, thus, according to Mannino, results in “failure to accumulate our minimum credit hours in the classroom.”

MACS, defending its hair color policy and “decorum” issues, suggested she could take finals under special circumstances. However, Sasha now says she doesn’t wish to return to MACS, is willing to accept a school-imposed failure, and would take her entire sophomore year over again at another school, one that supports diversity in all of its forms.

Among the principles the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School claims to have are “Celebrating and embracing diversity in cultures and individuals  . . .” and “Viewing each student as an individual while educating and mentoring the whole child . . . ”

Apparently, those principles apply only if the students agree with what the school administration believes a student should look like.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. For 31 years, he was professor of mass communications and says he didn’t think student free expression in hair color or appearance detracted from their education. He says he did advise students going into establishment journalism they might wish to consider the modes of the profession, but also advised them that there were many jobs in mass communications and other industries where intelligence, a strong work ethic, and enthusiasm were more important than conforming to a strict dress code. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel whose heroine wears “funky green-and-white high-top checkered sneaks with rainbow-colored laces.”]

 

 

Splitting Hairs in a Multi-Cultural School

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Sasha Rivera is a 15-year-old sophomore at the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School (MACS) in Philadelphia.

She’s an honors student who never got into trouble at school, and volunteers at Motivos, a national magazine for Hispanic youth.

She also has blue bangs in her dark brown hair. For that reason, she isn’t attending class.

Sasha and her principal, James Higgins, agree that Sasha came to school on Thursday, May 24, and had blue in her hair.

“In the hallway, he turned to me and said my hair color has to go,” says Sasha. She says that Higgins told her that unnatural hair color is against school rules. “He said it was in the [student] handbook,” she says.

MACS has a uniform policy, mandating specific clothes students must wear to class, what kind of jewelry and makeup, and even the only two colors of nail polish allowed. The only statement about hair is that it “should be neatly groomed.” However, there is an ambiguous sentence, “Any appearance deemed by the school staff to be inappropriate in an educational setting is not allowed.” That sentence deliberately leads to arbitrary, discretionary, and capricious interpretation that can pose legal challenges. “The whim of an administrator on one particular day does not constitute a rule or regulation,” Jenée Chizick, Motivos publisher, wrote in Sasha’s defense to the chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Higgins says that students can only have “natural hair color.” He has no objections if students wish to dye their hair honey blonde or raven, since he considers those to be natural hair colors. Apparently, highlights and lowlights in female hair are also acceptable. By that logic, there can’t be any objection to teens having white or gray hair, since they are “natural” colors. But, blue or green streaks, highlights, and bangs are not acceptable.

Higgins says he made the decision to exclude Sasha from classes the first day he noticed she had “unnatural” hair color.

However, Sasha has a different story. In her freshman year, she says she had streaks of orange, green, blue, and even blonde in her hair. “I was just experimenting,” she says. For several months in her sophomore year, she had semi-permanent green streaks, but she says no one confronted her. About a week before she was told to get rid of the color or not attend class, she had the blue highlights on her bangs.

“Every day I come to school I go in the front door,” says Sasha, “and he’s always there to greet us and check our uniforms.” Even if he missed all those days, he might have seen her, with green bangs on the cover of Motivos. Sasha had proudly brought the magazine to school to share with her teachers and guidance counselor. The photograph was taken March 22, so it had been two months that the principal and the teachers either didn’t notice or care about the color of her hair. Her FaceBook picture shows her with the blue color. She doesn’t know why her principal picked that one particular day to tell her she could not attend class because of her hair color.

Sasha was selected to participate as a Youth Media Ambassador to Colombia, with Motivos for 12 days in late June. She didn’t have trouble getting a passport, complete with a picture of her and her blue-streaked hair. Apparently, her hair color posed no threat to the American image abroad.

Higgins claims he told Sasha she was not dismissed from school. “She can come back any time she has natural hair,” he says. He says he even told her that teachers would give her packets of homework, and she could work in the school office and she could take finals there. But she couldn’t attend class. Sasha and her father, Jaime, wonder why having blue color bangs is somehow acceptable if the student can sit in an office, with students, staff, and faculty walking in all the time, but not acceptable for class.

Jaime Rivera, who supports his daughter and vigorously protested the decision, says he told the administration, ‘You’re denying her an education.” He says he tries “to show my daughter what is right and what its wrong, and to stand up for herself.”

Sasha says other students never complained or made fun of her, nor has her grades slipped because of her appearance. But, Higgins and a strict school policy places appearance as a primary condition in education.

“We are a very strict school, and decorum is very important,” he says. He emphasizes that clothes and appearance are important for success. He says the school, which sends almost every one of its graduates to college, must prepare the students for college-level work. But, when told that college students often have hair colors and styles that he may not think “natural,” he changes first to emphasize the quality of the academic program and then to emphasize that students need to get jobs—and “unnatural” hair color “is not appropriate for job interviews.”

Apparently, under his and the school board’s belief, Marilyn Monroe, Pink, and several hundred thousand white-haired ladies with light blue washes are unemployable. Also unemployable, in this administrator’s thinking, could be Marines who wear their hair “high and tight.” Students who wish to emulate Albert Einstein, Kenny G., Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Steve Jobs would be told those hair styles are not appropriate, certainly not the kind that some corporate executive and staff at MACS would wear.

Because MACS, a charter school, receives significant public funds it falls within Constitutional jurisdiction on freedom of expression issues. Most student rights issues date to 1969 in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Tinker v. Des Moines case, which decided that students and faculty do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, notes that courts often rule “Speech and dress is a communicative right to transmit that message” as long as it isn’t disruptive. Higgins acknowledges Sasha’s appearance wasn’t disruptive to the educational process.

In the absence of a specific school policy and the disruption of the normal school day, “There is no basis for the administration’s decision,” says Dr. Robert E. Gates, chair of the Department of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Bloomsburg University.

“There’s strong legal support for the student who wants to color her hair, since in most places the courts place the burden on the public school official who wants to claim the speech/symbolic expression would disrupt the school,” says Dr. Tom Eveslage, professor of journalism at Temple University, and a specialist in First Amendment law.

About half of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals “are receptive to students’ claims of free-expression rights concerning their hair,” according to the First Amendment Center. The other half, including the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, have not been as receptive. Nevertheless, according to the First Amendment Center, “Generally, courts that have found a constitutional issue have ruled . . . that a student’s choice of hair color and style represents either a First Amendment free-expression issue or a 14th Amendment liberty or equal protection issue.”

Adam Goldstein notes that schools could regulate hair color and appearance if “people don’t understand the message.” If Sasha Rivera had a T-shirt with a message that declared blue highlights is a protest against an illogical dress code, “that would be protected speech,” says Goldstein. If she handed out flyers to protest the policies of the school, “that would also be protected” by all courts, he says.

Goldstein suggests that the principal’s demand for “natural” hair color “is monumentally dishonest in that [he believes] students somehow can’t function within presence of someone who has blue in her hair.” The school board and its administrators, says Goldstein, “should be asking, ‘Does this rule make any sense?’ and ‘What is the best way to learn?’ not ‘what is the best way to appear?’”

A letter from Frank L. Mannino, dean of students, on June 4 advised Jaime Rivera that Sasha was subject to administrative failure. Because of previous unexcused absences—some to deal with her mother’s extended illness, the others because of not being allowed in class—Sasha had exceeded the 25 absences the school allows and, thus, according to Mannino, results in “failure to accumulate our minimum credit hours in the classroom.”

MACS, defending its hair color policy and “decorum” issues, suggested she could take finals under special circumstances. However, Sasha now says she doesn’t wish to return to MACS, is willing to accept a school-imposed failure, and would take her entire sophomore year over again at another school, one that supports diversity in all of its forms.

Among the principles the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School claims to have are “Celebrating and embracing diversity in cultures and individuals  . . .” and “Viewing each student as an individual while educating and mentoring the whole child . . . ”

Apparently, those principles apply only if the students agree with what the school administration believes a student should look like.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. For 31 years, he was professor of mass communications and says he didn’t think student free expression in hair color or appearance detracted from their education. He says he did advise students going into establishment journalism they might wish to consider the modes of the profession, but also advised them that there were many jobs in mass communications and other industries where intelligence, a strong work ethic, and enthusiasm were more important than conforming to a strict dress code. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel whose heroine wears “funky green-and-white high-top checkered sneaks with rainbow-colored laces.”]

 

 

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