Originally published in the November 12 issue of the Scratching Post
Blurring the line: religious freedom v. school safety
As the battle between self-expression and rigid institutional conformity rages in the halls of our local schools, many think the First Amendment clearly states freedom for all.
Students often get upset when teachers and staff tell them what they can and can not wear, or what they can and cannot do while in school. This causes their minds to jump to the oh-so-famous Bill of Rights which protects their ability to wear what they want and express whatever they desire. What most students do not understand is that at school they do not have the full rights that the public does.
More specifically, the things students wear tend to affect instances other than how one appears. Eastmont Assistant Principal Tom McRae commented that banned items, such as certain hats, jerseys and other symbols, regrettably, have led to certain negative connotations in schools.
A simple item such as an Oakland Raiders hat has been used by gangs for identification, and in that particular instance can cause complications that end up resulting with peer on peer violence.
Peer on peer violence is truly at the center of issues such as these that involve restricting or banning apparel. To put it simply, one’s “freedom of speech” is not worth jeopardizing their safety. Imagine a student walks through the front doors of EHS wearing that same Raiders hat – their favorite team – and suddenly they are attacked by a gang that happens to recognize the Raiders as a sign of the opposition. While this student certainly did not mean any harm by advertising his favorite NFL team, ignorance is not always bliss.
Over a decade ago, situations such as this became so common that something had to give. Thus, hats are now banned at Eastmont.
Crossing the line
History is inevitably bound to repeat itself, however some are now thinking that the new chapter of this story may be taking the idea of protection a bit too far.
A few years ago, local gang task forces recognized certain religious symbols, specifically rosaries, as being the latest insignia for school officials to be on the lookout for. While this movement seemed to be justified at the time, now the questions on many students’ minds are:
Is it really necessary anymore?
Where do you draw the line?
Eastmont junior Rique Haley is one of the first to come out about his experience dealing with the banned rosaries rule this year.
His father gave him a rosary as a gift, and its significance reaches beyond its religious origins. As he was walking down the hall, heading to class, a staff member asked him to tuck it away.
This happens more often than one would think.
“I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know why she was asking me to hide it, but I just did what she said,” explained Haley.
Repeatedly stripped of the right to wear his gift, Haley has stopped wearing the rosary all together. He is asked to hide it and remove it so often the struggle isn’t worth it anymore.
“Rosaries may go down the same road as the hats have(to be banned completely),” says McRae, “you never know. We haven’t crossed that bridge yet.” Fortunately, this is true. Gang members and other people haven’t completely ruined this privilege for students at EHS, but they are close.
For now, the line seems to drawn at rosaries; so far, crosses and crucifixes are okay.
According to Assistant Principal Russ Waterman, the difference in the rules is becuase there truly is a difference between rosaries and crosses in the religious world.
“As I understand it, from talking a few years back to both Catholic churches in East Wenatchee and Wenatchee, rosaries are not an adornment of the body. They are a prayer bead and should not be worn on the body as jewlery,” he said.
As for the Catholic church itself, there are many that support the banning of rosaries for the sake of safety. Father Tom Kuykendall, the pastor at Saint Joseph’s Church in Wenatchee, supports the administration for insituting the rule.
“We do not see rosaries as jewlery,” Kuykendall said. “They are made for prayer.”
That is where the distinction lies: banning rosaries has been approved by all of those invloved because, truly, rosaries are not intended to be worn as a decorative piece.
What are the real benefits of banning something as a cross necklace or a rosary? On it’s own it may seem pointless to dictate what a student wears, but to administration, it has everything to do with safety, their number one priority. Similar to the situation EHS had with hats, rosaries might go down the same path. Students used to get in fights because of their hat choice and the gang it represented. If gang members are already starting to identify themselves with rosaries, it may just end up the same way.
“I don’t know if we would be ever to fully ban it,” according to McRae.
Only time will tell if the right to wear crosses will be lost for good. However when all is said and done, students at this school are kept safe, even if it comes with some sacrifices.