Thursday, April 07, 2005

Why would a mother spend an evening with her daughter designing a t-shirt that she knew was going to get her daughter in trouble at school the next day?
That is one of the questions that needs to be asked in connection with 15-year-old high school sophomore LaStaysha Myers' civil rights lawsuit against the Webb City R-7 School District. (More information about the lawsuit can be found in an entry from yesterday's Turner Report.)
The lawsuit contained a declaration from Miss Myers, which was heavily quoted in The Turner Report. It also included a declaration from Miss Myers' mother, Leda Myers, in which she says, "On or about Nov. 30, 2004, I helped LaStaysha make a t-shirt bearing several slogans expressing support for gay people (e.g. 'I Support the Gay Rights,' 'Love Who You Want To," 'Who Are We to Judge,' 'I Support Them All the Way,' 'We Have the Right to Be Who We Want to Be')."
This act of mother-daughter bonding resulted in a request from school officials the next day that Miss Myers either change her shirt or turn it inside out. Miss Myers elected on a third option offered by school officials...going home.
"When I picked her up from school, Thornberry (Assistant High School Principal Jeff Thornberry) informed me that she would be further disciplined if she were to wear her t-shirt to school again."
So that night, the Myers women, with options open to them ranging from talking, watching television, reading, or renting a movie and fixing popcorn, sat down and made another T-shirt, this one with the message, "Webster's dictionary definition" of the word gay, "marry (sic); happy."
Ms. Myers had to know her daugher was going to run afoul of school authorities with the shirt and so she did. The act of civil disobedience brought another request from school officials and again Ms. Myers had to take her daughter home.
The First Amendment implications of the case do not change because of the motivation of the mother and daughter, but when people are involved in actions that may eventually have an effect on all of us, it is important to know their motivation.
Today's Joplin Globe features another article on Jasper County courthouse security. At one point a few years back, about 1998 I believe, county officials installed metal detectors and had sheriff's deputies manning them each day.
The only people who did not have to go through these annoying devices were county officials and anyone that county officials wanted to get into the building without having to bother with metal detectors.
The metal detectors were shelved after Sheriff Archie Dunn said there was not enough money to man them. Since then, judges have wanted them returned.
Of course, each time a violent incident takes place at a courthouse somewhere in the United States, the cry for added security goes up.
My position on this has been consistent since I wrote about it for The Carthage Press in 1998 and 1999. I have no problem with added security for the courtrooms. Install metal detectors on the floors where trials and hearings are taking place. It's inconvenient, but it is a necessity.
Have an armed deputy or security guard at or near the courthouse entrance. That will prevent most problems without going overboard. People who are at the courthouse to pay taxes or register to vote should not be forced to go through restrictive security measures to do so.
Judges and other county officials are right to be concerned with courthouse security. A reasonable approach would also be nice.
Should they elect to go overboard, which I fear they will do, then the judges, their employees and everyone else should also have to go through the devices.
Is there any less reason to believe that people who work for the government are less inclined to snap and do something regrettable.
It has often been the case that if elected officials are personally affected by their own decisions, they are more likely to give them extra consideration.


Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed in you Mr. Turner. It seems as though teachers should be on the side of the First Amendment. Motivation really isn't a factor and you pointing out that motivation seems someone like you are casting dispursions on those who choose to fight the fight. The great Justices on the Supreme Court said "students don't abandon their First Amendment rights when they walk through the schoolhouse doors." This should be the mantra of all school teachers. The bigotry that our children learn comes from their parents and outside influences. You should praise this mother who has chosen to help her daughter fight the fight! Especially after the startling revelation that most of our children think newspapers should be censored by the government. Shame on school teachers for not teaching our children about the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights. With your journalism background you should give these kids the pat on the back they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Why would the mother help her child make another shirt? I would venture a guess that the mother is encouraging her child to stand up for what she believes in in a nonviolent, appropriate way.

Randy said...

I am on the side of the First Amendment, but I am also a firm believer that the more knowledge you have about a subject the better off you are. First Amendment rights have been won for what we would consider higher purpose speech, such as Sullivan vs. United States, but they have also been won by Hustler magazine when Jerry Falwell sued it for doing an obscene parody of him in the late 1970s. The principle is the important thing, but understanding that the principle applies to everyone, no matter what their motives are, is important and they way you demonstrate that is by examining the historical background of the First Amendment. It was important for the civil rights workers to be able to exercise their constitutional rights in the '60s, but it was just as important for our freedom when the American Nazis won the right to march in Skokie, Ill., in 1978.