This just in: Jena school administrators not so keen on 1st amendment…

Well, they’re at it again in Jena. This time it’s 1st Amendment rights that seem to be nettling the powers-that-be.

LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt has told a group of students at Jena High School that they can’t wear t-shirts that say “Free the Jena 6.” They cause “too much of a stir,” he says.

As we’ve reported at S&R, the case of the students known now as the Jena 6 has revealed a pattern of racism and repression towards the small minority of blacks in this central Louisiana town. There has clearly been a dual system at work – one set of punishments for white students who’ve fostered problems (and who created the scenario that led to the attack on a white student that resulted in the over harsh response by Jena’s legal system).

And now the school superintendent – who was party to the inequitable treatment of Jena High’s black students – has muzzled the symbolic protest of black students against the unfair treatment they believe their friends and relatives have received. As the parent of one of the students noted:

They weren’t doing anything other than wearing the shirts, The school doesn’t have a dress code. They were covered. They’re trying to tell them what they can and can’t wear. – John Jenkins, father of one of the Jena 6

There’s a history of symbolic speech in public schools dating back to the 1960’s when a student won the right to wear a black arm band in protest of the Vietnam War. Over the course of the last 40 years or so, students have had their free speech rights upheld in some cases, denied in others. The denials mostly had to do with obscenity charges or with, as in the case of the recent “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case in Alaska, the endorsement of illegal activity – both of which fall into the category of causing discipline or educational problems for a school.

If the students at Jena choose to push this case, they stand a good chance of winning. Simply because other students, teachers, or administrators disagree with a sentiment expressed symbolically – whether that sentiment is against what they believe is an unjust war or for the freeing of persons they feel are unfairly being punished – doesn’t mean that the students expressing the sentiment cannot do so.

Given the tenor of the Roberts SCOTUS decisions, however, one must wonder whether these students, already being taught that there are two kinds of justice in the America they live in – one kind for whites, one for them – will receive yet another lesson in the unfairness of things….

Categories: Race/Gender

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16 replies »

  1. The South has rose again. The Civil War continues.

    Any thoughts about Ward Churchill of Colorado?

  2. Fellow Scrogue Sam is the fount for all things Ward Churchill:


    Of course, fellow Scrogue ERocha doesn’t completely agree with Sam:


    To paraphrase that shining philosopher Terrell Owens, we love us some diversity of thought and opinion…. 🙂

  3. Why is this not being reported on the network (CBS, NBC, ABC) nightly news?
    This is exactly why day after day people are sick and tired of the mainstream media (regardless if they are liberal, independent, or conservative) who simply are not reporting the news but simply sensationalizing Paris Hilton and some Senator who ‘tapped’ his feet in the John.
    Besides the ‘net where else is this story being discussed I have not heard it anywhere else.

  4. I first heard about the Jena 6 and Ward Churchill on Democracy Now!. No where else have I heard a word about either of them.

    A couple of months ago, I saw the the Confederate States of America. The premise is what the US would look like if the South had won the Civil War. Verrry interesting.

    It seems that racism and violence is ingrained in American society.

  5. 4. Jeff – September 4, 2007
    Why is this not being reported on the network (CBS, NBC, ABC) nightly news?
    This is exactly why day after day people are sick and tired of the mainstream media (regardless if they are liberal, independent, or conservative) who simply are not reporting the news but simply sensationalizing Paris Hilton and some Senator who

  6. I’m a history teacher and have taught my students about symbollic speech. In my state, schools have challenged a student’s “right” to wear something that represents something else… flag pins/ribbons, t-shirts with memorial insignias for friends who have died, etc. I have to say, for the most part, the schools will be flexible unless it interrupts the school day. And, in religious schools, where the separate of church and state prevents students from exhibiting their 1st Amendment rights, put the kabosh on anything that imposes on their tenets. I think symbollic speech is an important aspect of our right to free speech, however, at times it seems that it gets out of hand. For the Jena 6, however, I get sick thinking about how the Civil Rights movement has had virtually no impact on certain areas of our country. Long gone are the days when the Attorney General calls out the National Guard to protect black students as they go to a recently integrated school. The entire Jena 6 case is maddening. I hope that there’s enough pressure from the masses that these kids are vindicated, legally and spiritually. Speaking of… how insane is it that schools in this day and age are FINALLY integrating their proms?? I wrote about this last night… eek.

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  8. Dixie on the march again,
    I wish hurricanes where more discriminatory,
    But in the south the wrath of god seems to be directed at poor people, who of course are not overwhelmingly WASP.

  9. In another world, US marshals would land in helicopters and take over the Jena court house. Tonight. And arrest anyone who stood in their way in freeing the Jena 6. Unfortunately, the Justice Department has been corrupted, and there will be no enforcement of equal rights.

  10. For those of you who don’t know the truth about what is really happening in Jena, why don’t you find out before you criticize and compare? It’s time for all the hearsay to stop and for people to only react to the truth.

  11. I first hear about the JENA 6 on BET. A entertainer by the name of David Banner, had in the shirt. I agree why isnt thsi on mainstrem television??? Why is every one so worried about brittney spears and her being fat or who’s sleeping with who… It; actually sad The people in the world who do have the power to help probably dont even know about this or the to worried about their next BIG MOVE..SAD TO BE AN AMERICAN RIGHT NOW !

  12. This entire story almost makes my throat close up with sorrow and outrage for the entire situation. Someone says that you need to find out what exactly has happened in Jena. NOOSES WERE HUNG FROM A TREE!!! I mean what was your point with that comment. Is your point that I don’t know that that happened for a fact? No one is contending that point. I will say that No, that child should not have been beaten, but neither should these children be in jail. It does not teach any of them what they should really be learning. There is no good answer for what should happen to these children.

    Think about this: What do you think those boys who did that (and I mean the nooses and the beatings) are going to teach their children? Because if that is not addressed all this will just go on and on. I grew up in Mississippi right around where the civil rights workers were slain. I lived in the Mississippi Delta, where plantations still exist. I have seen the clan marching on the street (as ridiculous as they look in this day and age). Racism is alive. Racism can be defeated, but it takes so much more than what we are doing right now. Do you realize that most people who are racist truly don’t even know it?