Hate Speech, Free Speech and Intolerance

by Robert Pondiscio
November 28th, 2009

The ACLU is suing Florida’s Alachua County School District alleging students’ free speech has been “unlawfully censored.”  The Orlando Sentinal reports several children were suspended or threatened with suspension for “wearing tee shirts promoting their religious beliefs about Christianity and Islam in school and at school events earlier this school year.” 

Initially, students went to school wearing shirts with “Jesus answered ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except through me’” and “I stand with Dove World Outreach Center” on the front and “Islam is of the Devil” on the back.  The same phrase was displayed on a billboard at the students’ church, Dove World Outreach Center, prior to the beginning of the school year. 

“The message on the t-shirts is an unfortunate expression of religious intolerance, but the School Board’s policy of banning any message that are ‘offensive to others’ or ‘inappropriate,’ unfortunately draws the line in a way that unconstitutionally prohibits freedom of speech,” the ACLU’s Howard Simon tells the paper.

A controversy over teaching about Islam is also roiling a New Jersey school district, where parents of some 6th graders are objecting to the school district’s social studies curriculum and a book used to teach them about Muslim culture and Islam.  At issue is an assignment asking students to “create a mini-Quran.”  A story about the controversy in the Hunterdon County Democrat is short on specifics.  (What is the book parents are objecting to?  How does the assignment cross the line to indoctrination, as some parents allege?)  Several alarming reader comments follow the piece, including one who writes we should ”hunt every last one of the 1.5 billion muslims in this world down like dogs and eliminate them, in the name of Christ.”  Such comments are by themselves a compelling argument for why kids might need a strong body of factual knowledge about world religions–and a healthy grounding in the American tradition of religious tolerance.

Axe Grinding?

by Robert Pondiscio
November 28th, 2009

Parents in one Rhode Island school district are wondering whether “grinding,” a sexually suggestive form of dancing, should be banned at school dances. 

It’s gotten to the point where it’s uncomfortable to watch,” said Kate Macinanti, chairwoman of the high school’s dance committee – a subgroup of the South Kingstown High School Parent-Teacher Group. “A good portion of students aren’t interested in doing it, but there are students who do and when you have a young girl who is literally bent over with her hands on the floor and a boy behind her simulating a sex act, you have to wonder if we should be OK with it.”

A local paper points out the dancing styles of teenagers have irked adults for generations, ever since Elvis Presley shook his hips on stage, but Macinanti  thinks when it comes to grinding, parents need to see it for themselves.  “The majority of parents have not witnessed it personally, but when they witness someone so young in such a position, publicly, it really opens their eyes as to what’s going on,” said Macinanti, who worries that young girls who grind might be sending a message that their bodies are for public consumption or giving boys the false impression that they’re willing to have sex, even if they might not be.

Principal Robert McCarthy said South Kingstown doesn’t want to be one of the schools that banned dances outright, like some communities, nor does it want to turn a blind eye to behavior that is “inappropriate” at school functions. Instead, he hopes that the school can take advantage of its role as a place where discussions about appropriateness, dress, conduct, language and other similar conversations take place.

I’m with Macinanti.  Having chaperoned 5th grade dances where some of the kids moves made me uncomfortable, the idea of kids simulating sex acts on the dance floor is well past my comfort zone.  Yes, I’m now officially old.