Intolerant Mississippi school officials conceded defeat this week by permitting Ryan Green to wear his Star of David necklace. Their action reversed a previous ruling that banned the Star, because it supposedly could be considered a gang symbol. The reversal was principally due to the courageousness of Ryan Green, the support of his parents, and the legal services of the ACLU.
Ryan Green could have stopped wearing his Jewish Star, like the students who remove dye from their hair and the students who stopped wearing trench coats. Instead, he fought for and won his freedom. And in the process, he strengthened everyone’s religious freedom.
Ryan’s father said, “It’s a wonderful feeling. We are truly joyous. As a father to a son this is the best principle I could teach him: Stand up for your rights.”
It is highly likely that the Mississippi school board knew it was illegal to ban the Jewish Star, however they assumed Ryan would accept defeat and realize that Mississippi is more like China than 18th century America. When you hear about a school regulation and think, “that must be unconstitutional,” you are probably correct. School officials are usually hoping the courts will also ignore the constitution and sometimes they are simply trying to get media attention.
David Ingebretsen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said,”while we are pleased with the decision, it is regrettable that Ryan’s religious freedom was violated for two weeks before the school board finally realized what the rest of the country already knew–that the Star of David is a religious symbol, not a gang symbol,”
After enduring years of harassment, it is uplifting to hear the ACLU condemn even two weeks of lost rights. The lawyers in the case filed for an injunction as well as a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which would have immediately allowed Ryan the freedom to wear his necklace. We must all view even the slightest constitutional attack as a threat to all of our freedoms.
|Hopefully Ryan’s fight will call into question the entire concept of banning gang symbols.|
Even with the reversal, the ACLU lawyers have not dropped the case. They plan to review the decision of the board to ensure that it applies to all students.
Hopefully Ryan’s fight will call into question the entire concept of banning gang symbols. Government officials claim that the bans are necessary to reduce violence. As we have said before, many things can reduce violence but that does not justify their use. In some towns, a general animosity exists between many of the races. Does that mean that the government should force people to cover up their skin?
Government officials are actually using the bans to suppress speech. At Ryan Green’s school, the code of conduct bans any reference to any group that is not affiliated with the school. To put the ban in perspective, the ban actually outlaws any group not affiliated with the government. Can you say “nationalism?” At another school, a student was denied the right to wear a shirt that says, “Vegans have First Amendment rights,” because vegan is a term that is used by groups such as Straight Edge.
The government is obviously more concerned with censorship than with reducing violence. However, since Constitutional rights do not evaporate at the schoolhouse door, the government should learn to ignore people who wear Jewish Stars and vegan t-shirts. Gang symbols are no different from shirts that promote any type of club.
This case serves as a reminder of the danger of censorship in any form. Bans on gang symbols are eerily similar to the concept of burning or censoring books for fear of their impact on the public. The U.S. government’s movement from gang symbols to Jewish symbols rivals even censorship of the Nazis, who initially outlawed pornography and then condemned Shakespeare.
Use Ryan Green’s victory as an inspiration to defend the constitutional rights of all groups. If your school denies the right of a gang member to display gang symbols then stage a protest or encourage him to file a lawsuit. Your reward is your freedom.