Closed court compared to hearings in nick of time

Friday, June 15, 2012

Return with us now to those thrilling days of the 1960s when Janis Joplin sang the disturbing lyrics: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Really, now that "Peace is at hand," again, as the secretary of state said during the Vietnam War, it's amazing how the nearly adult among us dress in rebellious robes.

Today, our cautionary tale is from the courts. It's about a young man asserting constitutional rights, regardless of a requirement that he get a haircut.

This tale is told as Marshall County school system leaders publicize a dress code.

In the suburbs of a city with really strict constitutionalists, a school system imposed student appearance standards, including hair length for boys. One of them flaunted the standard. His principal told him to get a haircut or be suspended until he got one.

When it became clear that the directive was ignored, the boy was suspended and told he couldn't come back to finish his senior year until he got a haircut.

After consulting with his preacher, the boy got a lawyer.

The lawyer asked a judge for an injunction. The judge agreed, ordering the principal to stand down and not enforce the suspension until a hearing was held on legal questions raised in an accompanying complaint.

The principal's directive was called punitive without due process to consider the implied restriction of the boy's freedom of speech as expressed by hair length. He was protesting the war.

Free speech issues never got to court because its calendar was chock full of nuts in other cases including divorce and money matters. The boy's complaint was set to be heard after graduation ceremonies. He got his diploma. After college, he wanted to go to law school. The court saw the haircut issue as moot, saved the schools' legal costs and the case was dismissed.

What's this got to do with the schools' dress code?

It says that you can have a small brand logo displayed on a shirt. But if you have a large display of a school's mascot, logo, slogan or other such embellishment, then it's OK. Otherwise, big decorations on a shirt are not allowed.

Suppose a member of the Young Republicans Club wears a swell, collared, short-sleeved, pullover shirt with GOP embroidered on a breast pocket and a keen black and white image of Mitt Romney across the back, shoulder to shoulder?

Improbable? Well, as they say, "It could happen."

That's a free speech issue.

What if a kid comes to class with Che Guevara's face on his shirt? Suppose another wears a shirt with the stars and bars brand logo that's small but disruptive of the teaching environment?

Suppose Sunday school class students wear shirts with an embroidered cross on the pocket and a big black and white image of Jesus across the back?

What would Jesus do?

What would the judge do? Constitutional rights don't start after your 18th birthday.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.