First Amendment Rights in Westfield
: Initially, I thought this was a straight-out First Amendment case
and it would be over with, pronto. Now I’m beginning to believe the issue truly does involve a form of bias against religious free expression. Deans and principals crack down on student-run newspapers. People get upset. But a high school prohibits distribution of non-approved literature (constitutional wrong No. 1) and then moves to suspend seven students for handing out candy canes with religious messages attached to them (constitutional wrong No. 2), and First Amendment backers aren’t rallying to the kids’ cause? Don’t get it. My only conclusion (based on my own ugly prejudices) is that, well, they are a bunch of kooky, annoying born-again Christians with weird views on the origins of candy canes and they’re being backed by a cause-mongering interest group I don’t necessarily trust, right? But aren’t we supposed to work around such prejudices and defend these kids’ rights? Do they really deserve suspensions, for cryin’ out loud? I know there’s a constitutional separation-of-church-and-state issue lurking here somewhere. But there’s a difference between state ‘sponsorship’ of religion and state ‘prohibition’ against religious expression. Is Westfield High School also cracking down on students exchanging Christmas cards and gifts? I doubt it. ... Postscript: As for Westfield’s ban on distribution of non-approved literature in general, I truly hope some kids come to school armed with, say, leaflets denouncing/supporting the coming war with Iraq. Let’s turn it into a real test case. Bottom line: We need to let kids learn how to express their opinions on a wide variety of issues, including distributing non-school sponsored candy canes with dopey religious messages on them.