As the story has been reported, a young lady by the name of Krystal Myers, editor of the school newspaper at Lenoir City High School, submitted an editorial criticizing her school for the regular violation of students’ first amendment protections. The tone of her article seems to indicate that her audience would have been well aware of the occurrences she speaks of. She cites at least one other student whose comment supports her assertion but refrains from mentioning any of the accused law breakers by name. The article is concise, respectful and relies heavily on the facts of US constitutional law. So how was this article received by readers of the paper?
It wasn’t. School authorities refused to allow the paper to publish the article. They claimed the content would be disruptive to the student body. Some of Myers’ critics have gone so far as to suggest that her accusations are false and that she is guilty of a crime herself by making these accusations. I hope I am not the only one who can see the more serious flaws in this reasoning. Aside from how nonsensical a method this would be of making false accusations, the fact that her entire intended audience is in a position to know from experience if the claims are true, there is also the little setback of having the a school official admit to the activities in question. The extent of their defense so far has been that they feel they are on the “right side of the law.”
I openly acknowledge that the school has the right to refuse publication of any article it feels might cause a disruption. Though I very sincerely doubt the article in question is being judged and declined on fair grounds, I would be very open to seeing the decision justified, especially after surveying the body of other articles the reviewers have permitted to be published in the past. Even if their decision is not ethically justifiable, it is at least defensible. They have the privilege of authority in what can and cannot be published in the school paper. What they may not have realized at the time (but certainly do now) is that their other activities, as noted in the article, are questionable at best and most likely illegal. The act of refusing publication has hastened the exposure of their activities.
The only information not already known by the student body as a whole was probably the case law establishing the illegal nature of the school’s activities. Publishing the article would have kept the criticisms in-house for a time, plenty of time to look into correcting the violations or at the very least looking into the laws concerned. Instead they have opened their own window to the eyes of a nation, fresh from the victory of Jessica Ahlquist and the ACLU in Cranston. Now every student with an internet connection is practically guaranteed to read her article. So are hundreds of thousands of us nationwide.
As a resident of Tennessee I can attest that this sort of thing happens all the time in our fine state. I’m speaking both of censorship and of the regular constitutional violations in our public schools. I live about as close to Lenoir City as I live to Dayton Tennessee, that bastion of Christian piety and ignorance made so famous by the Scopes trial in 1925. I would be tickled to tell you that the experiences of Dayton, becoming the laughing stock of the civilized world for a time, and forever cementing the hillbilly stereotype into the mind of the nation, had changed the town. It hasn’t.
But before you think I’m singling out Dayton or Lenoir City as easy targets of ridicule, think again. The events we are speaking of are symptomatic of the state itself, some might even justifiably say of the south as a whole. The people of Dayton, Lenoir City and in towns all over the bible belt are as backward and willfully ignorant as they ever were. I have my own stories to tell; stories of laws willingly broken and rights violated in small town Tennessee; stories of bigotry and ignorance and self-righteousness. They will have to wait though. My stories are anecdotes of a time decades in the past. Even I was ignorant of the implications of these things back then.
Right now is what we need to focus on. Right now is the time when momentum is gathering. Maybe nothing will come of the events in Lenoir City. Maybe the people of Lenoir City will see through clearer lenses than did the people of Cranston and correct themselves. Gawd knows theocrats can use a little more self-correction in their lives. If history and human nature are any indication, however, the school board will put its religious privileges above the interests and rights of its students and will dig in its heels. If it does then I welcome the lawsuit that ensues. Make no mistake, I have two children in the Tennessee school system and the idea of our state’s already diminished educational budget getting wasted on unnecessary lawsuits sickens me.
Eventually people will see that it’s their school boards and their fellow voters sacrificing the education and futures of our children and not those of us who care about the constitution. At least I hope they will see. Sometimes we seem to be the only ones in this fight who actually want our kids to get a decent education at all.