Friday, June 10, 2005

THOMAS BENYA, A GRADUATING SENIOR at a Maryland high school, was barred from graduation ceremonies and denied his diploma because he wore a bolo tie under his graduation gown as an expression of his Cherokee heritage. The graduation dress code for young women at this school is white dresses or skirts with white blouses; and for young men it is "dark dress pants with white dress shirts and ties." Benya's bolo tie does not fit the school's definition of a tie.

That left Benya's classmates free to wear bright orange, red and striped ties under their gowns at the ceremony Wednesday at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. One senior girl wore a headscarf and long pants for religious reasons.

"The First Amendment protects religion, and we do everything possible to honor that," O'Malley-Simpson said. "There is nothing that requires us to follow everyone's different cultures."

In other words, outward expression of individual religious beliefs is protected by the First Amendment; outward expression of individual cultural heritage is not.

Only problem is, the courts have ruled that, with reasonable limits, students DO have the right to self-expression.

The courts have ruled that students have limited rights to express themselves at school as long as their behavior is not disruptive. A 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, sided with students who wanted to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.

David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said there are limits to those rights. Carrying political placards or wearing a clown suit to graduation would presumably be disruptive. The question, he said, is whether a bolo tie under a gown is disruptive.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting graduation to be a formal occasion," he said, "but the idea that everyone should look the same -- they're not all the same."

Guess the land of rugged individualism has become the land of conforming to the group.

No comments: