Monday, April 27, 2015

New York Bus Ads

On Tuesday April 21, a federal judge ordered New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to exhibit on its buses a provocative ad that refers to Muslims killing Jews, rejecting the argument that the ad could incite terrorism or impending violence.

New York’s MTA informed the American Freedom Defense Initiative that it planned to display 3 of the 4 ads submitted for approval by the AFDI. The “Hamas Killing Jews” ad was not approved because it violated the MTA’s policy which addresses proposed advertisements that may incite and provoke violence. Howard Marcus, a representative from the MTA, spoke about the ad saying, “It is reasonably foreseeable that, due to material contained in it, its display would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace and so harm, disrupt, or interfere with safe, efficient, and orderly transportation operations.”   
The ad depicts a threatening man wearing a scarf around his head and face, contains a quote “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah” credited to “Hamas MTV,” and then says, “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”

Judge Koeltl said he was “sensitive” to the safety worries, but that the MTA Chairman “underestimates the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements. It strains credulity to believe that New Yorkers would be incited to violence by ads that did not incite residents of Chicago and San Francisco.”

Under the First Amendment, speech cannot be punished or barred, simply because it might offend a hostile crowd.  By censoring AFDI’s’ speech because of its message, the MTA may be punishing speech based on its content and viewpoint. I think this case is relevant due to the ongoing terrorism that occurs against Israeli citizens due to Islamic jihad as well as the fact the MTA is being forced to run this ad when it is a violation of their policy of proposed advertisements. They shouldn’t be forced to display an ad if they don’t want to, especially if the ad has religious content that could be conceived as hate speech. The MTA is responsible for the safety of its riders and should have their best interest in mind when deciding what to advertise on its busses.

ADFI complaint claims that the MTA’s content- and viewpoint-based, restraint on AFDI’s speech violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The MTA should have the right to dictate which advertisements they decide to endorse because at the end of the day it is their busses that the ad will be running on. There is a disclaimer underneath the ad, which states that the MTA is not endorsing the ad. The ADFI had 3 of their 4 submitted ads approved but could not get this ad passed because of its content that the MTA felt violated its policy. It is within MTA interest to protect its riders and this ad in their opinion could incite violence. I think that forcing them to run the ad is unconstitutional because it forces them to endorse speech that they do not believe. While offensive speech cannot be banned Under the First Amendment, I disagree that New York’s MTA must run the ad.

What do you think? Is the MTA speech restriction based on a perceived negative response that AFDI’s message might receive from certain viewers based on its content and viewpoint. Or are they just in striving to disassociate with this type of speech?

Does The National Motto Equal Establishment?

McDowell County in North Carolina recently approved the addition of “In God We Trust” signs to public buildings such as the county courthouse. This was a unanimous decision made by the county’s Board of Commissioners, and chairman David Walker stated, "we did this to reaffirm what our Founding Fathers affirmed and that is our national motto is 'In God We Trust.'" The addition of these signs is to be paid for by private donations rather than taking the money out of taxes.
The issue here is that some find this to be a breach of the Establishment Clause because it signifies government endorsement of religion. Not only this, but also that the government may favor religious persons, or those who worship only one deity, over those who are not religious. Many county residents find this to be a necessary improvement to the area while others see this as a clear breakdown of the separation between church and state.
I believe that putting these signs on public county buildings is completely constitutional. The strongest piece of evidence to support this is the fact that the money is not coming from public tax dollars, but instead private donations will be funding this operation. With this being said, I do not believe that it could be seen as establishment because the public is not providing the payment. In addition, ‘In God We Trust’ is the national motto of this country. It is written on our currency and has historically been a highly very prominent and publicized saying. I do not see any difference between having the motto on our money compared to having it on buildings, especially when the public is not even funding it. This is not establishment and is entirely constitutional.
This case reminded me of Van Orden v. Perry where the court decided that it was constitutional to have a monument with the Ten Commandments on the lawn of the state capitol building. It was stated that the Commandments are historically significant, and that the presence of this monument does not automatically mean that the government is endorsing religion. I fully agree with the court’s decision in this case because our country was largely built with a religious backbone and it is constitutional to highlight this fact through the use of historical monuments. Likewise, ‘In God We Trust’ has been on US currency since 1864 and became our national motto in 1956. The phrase is historically significant and an important aspect of our country; it is constitutional and has a historical purpose to portray it on public buildings.
Issues such as this are important to highlight because some people are uncomfortable with breaching the wall of separation between church and state. However, it is important to realize that a simple saying, in this case our national motto, being shown on a public building does not automatically equal government establishment. Religious sayings are said in public schools and courtrooms every day; this is no different.
Overall, I believe that the posting of ‘In God We Trust’ on public county buildings is entirely constitutional because it has historical significance being our national motto along with the fact that the public is not being asked to fund it. I think if the money for this operation were to be taken out of tax dollars the issue would be a bit more complicated, but that is not a relevant issue for this case.
What do you think? Is the posting of our national motto on public buildings establishment? Could this lead to a slippery slope of other sayings being posted? Does historical significance matter?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Whose Rights Are More Important Anyway?

It seems as though another bakery is under fire for its decision not to bake a same-sex couple's wedding cake, according to this article.  Aaron and Melissa Klein are the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a small bakery located in a strip-mall in Gresham, Oregon.  Back in January of 2013, Aaron Klein declined to have Sweet Cakes by Melissa (which would include the involvement of the owners themselves) bake the cake for Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer's special day because the action conflicted with he and his wife's Christian values and the religion's definition of marriage.  The two women, now married, filed a claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying that this denial of service was illegal under the state's public accommodation law, which prohibits someone to discriminate against another person based on his or her sexual orientation when providing a service.  The Oregon law can be viewed in its entirety here.

Now this seems to be an open-and-shut case, but when getting into the finer details, we can see that it starts to get a little more dicey.  Let's get into those said details.  As a result of Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer's complaint, the Bureau of Labor and Industries completed an investigation and found the Klein's guilty of violating the state's public accommodation law because they denied the women full access of their bakery, which is considered a public business, and did so based on discrimination against sexual orientation.  Due to this result, the Bureau proposed a fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein in the amount of $135,000.

What is particularly interesting is how the amount of the fine was decided.  Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer submitted two lists (one in regards to each individual) to the Bureau of the supposed physical, mental, and emotional damages that they experienced as a result of the Klein's denial to bake their wedding cake.  In these lists were included things like 'impaired digestion,' 'pale[ness] and sick[ness] at home after work,' 'resumption of smoking habit,' and 'weight gain'.  The Bureau then decided that $75,000 for one list and $60,000 for the other would be fair compensation for the 178 said "damages," which then makes the total fine $135,000.

In September of 2013, Aaron and Melissa Klein were forced to shut down the bakery--their only source of income--due to the allegations and the outcries and backlash from the Gresham community.  The Klein's are also the parents of five children and the outrageous amount of the fine is enough to bankrupt the family of seven.  Anna Harmon, who is the Klein's attorney, importantly points out that fine will not be paid by 'liquidating business assets' since they no longer own the business, but will have to come from their life savings and their shallow pockets instead.  Ms. Harmon also brings to light the fact that during the initial hearing, there were no expert witnesses to validate the existence of any of the claimed damages, so we have no way of knowing if they are actually true or just fabricated.  These details bring this case into a whole different ball game.

Aaron Klein believes that the state is charging this much as an attack on their personal livelihood because the Klein's views differ from those of the state.  He even made the statement that he believes that the state is trying to "obliterate" his family.  The proposed fine will now go to Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who will decided whether to accept the fine or adjust it in a final order.

The effects of this case are, in my opinion, bigger than we think.  I do agree that what the Klein's did was wrong in that they broke the law, but I think they should have received an exemption for this.  I also think that we have to consider the more broad implications: if the Klein's are forced to pay this fine, they will go bankrupt and could quite possibly lose everything that they have left.  The fine does not need to be so much, especially since there was not an expert witness to validate the "damages" that Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer "have experienced".  No one should have to choose between being religious (namely their rights to free exercise) and running a business, which is exactly what has happened to the Klein's here.  This case obviously reminds me of the other cases we have come across that involved bakers and same-sex couples, but I think that the stakes are definitely higher in this case.  I would say that Oregon, just like any other state, has a compelling state interest to eradicate discrimination, but I would say that it also has a compelling state interest to protect the economic well-being of its citizens.

So what do you guys think? Should the Klein's have to pay this outrageously high fine, or should they receive an exemption to protect their free exercise rights under the Constitution?

Its All About the Kids When it Comes to Same-Sex Marraige

This coming Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear oral briefs in the case of Obergefell v Hodges, which deals with the nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage.  It was brought about when a same sex couple filed a lawsuit in federal court in order to change Ohio’s constitutional amendment which states that legal unions are between a man and a woman, without exception. Ohio also fails to recognize same sex unions that were made outside of the state in places where it is legal. These couples believe it is a violation of their constitutional rights and they want the amendment redacted from Ohio’s state constitution. There are many rallying against them, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who claim that a legal redefinition of marriage would pose a direct threat to their religious liberty. 

A new angle is being taken in opposition the claimants however. Several briefs have been filed with the high court which takes into account the potential negative impact that this redefinition of marriage could have on the countries children, as a ruling here would effect the entire nation, essentially forcing the states to comply with same sex unions that were made out of state.  They argue that traditional definitions of marriage must be kept intact at all possible costs, as same sex couples wont be able to provide the same amount of stability and parenting dynamic needed to raise well adjusted and emotionally stable children. They argue that the governments main concern in marriage is children, so the government has a compelling interest to make sure the laws regarding marriage are tailored around the children’s needs, and what will be best for them.  "Marriage law ought to reflect the reality that every child is born to a mother and father and that children have a natural right to a relationship with both parents. Children suffer emotional harm when they lose a relationship with one or both parents, which is categorically the case when they are raised by a same-sex couple. Two loving women cannot replace a missing father. And two loving men cannot replace a child’s mother. Government should institutionalize and promote only the family structure that ensures children’s rights and well-being are protected.” This was the testimony of Fulbright Scholar Katy Faust in her friend of the court brief,  which came from her experience as being a child of same sex parents. 

I fundamentally disagree with the idea that the only proper parents for a child are a man and a woman, and that same-sex couples shouldn’t have the ability to marry simply because certain people believe they are ill-equipped to provide a good life for their children. What proof is there to back up any of this information? Kary Faust’s argument to me is completely irrelevant as that was simply her isolated situation, which really does nothing to prove any sort of inadequacy of same sex couples ability to raise children, How many children are abused at home every year, or go to sleep hungry, or have developed emotional issues due to stressful and un-satisfactory situations at home. How many of these inadequate parents were of the same sex? I would beg to argue less then 1%, so to me this whole argument of not being able to provide a stable home is somewhat of a joke, because every family is unique, and many situations are not ideal. So to point the finger and make accusations that same-sex couples children will suffer emotional distress is somewhat ridiculous. To me, this is just a hollow claim to keep our antiquated traditions of conventional marriage the same as they have been for hundreds of years, clearly not willing to adapt to the changing times and give same sex couples the same constitutional rights as every other couple. Slapping a label on a relationship and telling two people who are in love that they cant exercise their right to marry because they are the same gender, and that "it's just the way it always has been," or that their parenting abilities be called into question is to me a direct violation of their constitutional rights and the fourteenth amendment.

In regards to the religious groups claims that their rights are being infringed upon, I personally don’t see how this is the case. How would other people’s rights to marry affect their religion or ability to practice it? There is no substantial burden in any way. It seem that they are most likely in opposition because they are fundamentally against same sex marriage, but I don’t see how it directly burdens their religion or ability to practice it. It also goes along with this idea of tradition that the court always loves to bring up, stating that the traditional values which this country where established upon 200 years ago should in some way determine the laws which are in in effect in an ever evolving modern society. They say that marriage is historically a religious ceremony, and that throughout our history our Christian values have taught us that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and anything other than that is seen as an abomination. I think that it is the time for the court to finally drop this antiquated way of thinking and shed the consistent precedent regarding the idea of “tradition” when making their decisions. Times have changed, and it is about time that the definitions of marriage legally change along with it throughout the entirety of the US, and this is an important case in taking the next step to the desired level of equality we should all want to see in our society, regardless of our religion.

What do you think? Would the redefinition of same-sex marriage have a negative effect on the children of America? Are certain religious groups rights being infringed upon?

Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy for Minors

Recently in New Jersey, a challenge has been made to the ban on gay conversion therapy for minors. The challenge was from a homosexual 15 year old boy who says that he suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, self-hatred and suicidal thoughts as he and his parents believe that homosexuality is a sin. He and his parents believe that he should be given all treatment available to convert him, especially as homosexuality is fundamentally condemned by their religion. The family also makes it clear that the state should have nothing to do with how they would like to treat their own son and such a ban infringes on their right to free speech, freedom of religion and the 14th amendment right to equal protection.
Christy after signing the ban

The ban on gay therapy for minors was signed into law in August of 2013 by governor Chris Christy in New Jersey and followed in the footsteps of one recently enacted in California. Christy acknowledged at the time that the ban had the potential to limits parent’s choice on how they want to treat their children, but that the risk of exposing children to such a questionable treatment without clear evidence that the benefits outweigh them had caused him to sign the law.
Christy’s concerns about the health risks of the treatment stem from a multitude of studies done by the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association others that prove the therapy to be ineffective in almost all cases.  They note that the side effects of the therapy include depression, anxiety, loss of sexuality and suicidal thoughts. Exposing children to such risks would be a serious threat to their health regardless of the parent’s religion or beliefs.
The salient issue surrounding this is whether the State has overwhelming interest in banning gay conversion therapy, and enough to infringes upon the free speech and religious rights of the parents.
In my opinion, the State does have an overwhelming interest in banning gay conversion therapy for children. The therapy has not been proven to be effective and if anything it has been proven harmful to minors, with awful side effects. Despite both the boy’s claims and that of his parents, I believe that the negative effects of the therapy are substantial enough to burden the parents even if it infringes upon their religious beliefs. Some may argue that because of Wisconsin v. Yoder where the Supreme Court found that they could not require Amish children to be placed in compulsory education past 8th grade as it violated the parent’s right to freedom of religion, I would argue that the effects of gay therapy are much worse than the interest of State in educating its children, and thus it is constitutional to ban such a practice and infringe on the parent’s right to freedom of religion.
Not only that but in Oregon v. Smith the Supreme Court upheld that it was constitutional to refuse an individual their unemployment benefits for violating the ban on the use of peyote, even though it was used for a religious ceremony. In some cases, the interest of the State will conflict with the religious beliefs of the individual and it is in these cases that if there is overwhelming evidence of the danger of such drugs (or therapy) we must listen to and respect the State over religion. The State would not be hindering the religion as a whole by banning gay therapy but rather they would be making sure that the children are protected.
Judge Wolfson, who stated the majority opinion for an earlier challenge to the ban, claimed that the statute did not even restrict freedom of religion as it is neutral towards all religions. Even if the ban “disproportionately affects those motivated by religious belief” she argued that the ban is looking out for the best interest of the children, and the State has a right to intervene in such cases.
I agree with Wolfson and I think that this ban is a step in the right direction for the entire LGBT community to make such therapies illegal, especially for minors who cant even make the choice to attend or not. Imagine is a young child was forced to go through such therapy by their parents! The overwhelming evidence shows that the therapy has terrible consequences and even if it is in the opinion of the parent’s that the children should attend the therapy, the state has an overwhelming interest to ban it regardless if the parents objections are due to their religion.

What do you think?  Should the State ban gay conversion therapy for minors or should it be up to the parents to decide how to treat their own children based on their religious beliefs?

Religious Rights of Few Cause a Plane Delay For Many

            An El Al flight was delayed for a dispute over religious rights.  The flight was from New York to Tel Aviv on the morning of Rosh Hashanah.  As passengers began to board the plan, some of the Orthodox Jewish men on the flight noticed what they viewed as a severe problem.  Many of these men were assigned seats next to women on the flight.  Orthodox Judaism “forbids physical contact between men and women unless they are first-degree relatives or married to one another”.  Some men asked the women to get up and switch their seat with someone.  Other men offered compensation to women for changing their seat.  Many of the women involved were Jewish.  Several of them complained about being harassed and bullied. 
            The flight took off after a twenty-minute delay.  Many of the men sat in their assigned seats initially then immediately stood up after takeoff.  Several of them remained standing for the eleven-hour flight.  Some were praying in the aisles and refused to sit down.  Many passengers felt uncomfortable or unsafe.  Some complained about difficulty getting to the bathroom or requesting service from a flight attendant.
            El Al used to be a public airline company.  Then, in 2005, the Israeli company privatized.   However, the company has no law regarding gender segregation on their flights.  Therefore, the company did their best to accompany the needs of all their customers.  Being that El Al is a private, Israeli company, the flight crew might have had some biased sympathy toward the Orthodox Jewish men, which is likely to have caused the delay. 
            The Orthodox Jewish men were claiming they had a right to these actions based on the Free Exercise clause.  If they were forced to sit next to a woman on the flight, the state would be supporting a violation of their deeply routed faith.  However, the state has a compelling interest in keeping all passengers seated during the flight for safety reasons.  Turbulence could cause a standing passenger to lose their balance.  This could cause people to fall on other passengers.  Or, in a more extreme case, a passenger could stick his hand out to catch his balance and accidentally hit one of the emergency exit buttons, causing all passengers to be ejected from the plane. 
            In addition, the other passengers on the plane have a right to sit in the seats that they purchased.  One woman said she was asked to move away from her husband even though they specifically bought tickets so they could sit together on the plane.  One person’s religious rights should not be valued higher that that of another’s civil rights.  Therefore, the state would be supporting a violation of some citizen’s civil rights if they forced the women to switch seats.
            This is a tough case because there are fairly significant burdens placed on all parties.  The Orthodox Jewish men have a constitutional right to Freely Exercise their religion.  The other passengers have the right to sit in the seat they paid for.  The airline has an interest in accommodating all needs so they don’t lose any business or face a lawsuit.  The state has an interest in maintaining safe flights as well as protecting the religious rights of these men.
            However, I believe in this case no exemption should be granted and the men should be forced to sit in their assigned seats.  These men are in a public setting in which, if they are allowed to act on their religious belief, those actions will burden the other law-abiding passengers with delays, safety concerns, and difficulty using the restroom on an eleven hour flight.  In addition, I believe the state’s compelling interest to ensure the safety of the passengers and maintain standard procedures on each flight trumps the possible breach in faith of these Orthodox Jewish men.  Although the article describes the planes as having “close quarters” the men could do their best to avoid physical contact despite sitting next to women.  In the future, El Al should provide an alternative option such as providing some tickets with gender segregation to accommodate these religious beliefs. 
            As a side note, I do believe these men had every right to ask women to move their seats.  I don’t understand why they were asking women to move when they could try to move their own seat instead.  However, these men still have the right to express their religious beliefs and ask for an accommodation.  Although many female passengers felt “bullied and harassed”, there is no law for being offended by one’s religion.
            Do you think the Orthodox Jewish men should have been granted an exemption in this case?  What would that exemption entail?  Does it matter that El Al is a private company?  Should religious rights be allowed to burden civil rights?

Monday, April 20, 2015

NJ Takes Churches out of Headstone Business

Last month, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that bars all religious groups that own or manage a cemetery from selling headstones and family crypts. The law also prevents religious groups from owning funeral homes and mortuaries. The new law chiefly affects the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark. The Archdiocese of Newark is the largest single provider of in-ground burials in New Jersey and after entering the headstone business two years ago, the Archdiocese of Newark has become a major source of competition for the New Jersey headstone business community as their market share has grown to 36%.

The Monument Builders of New Jersey heavily lobbied the New Jersey legislature to enact legislation which would give monument builders a level playing field. The president of the trade association, John Burns Jr., insisted that private firms could not compete with tax-exempt groups like churches. Burns claimed that within the first 18 months that the archdiocese started selling headstones, some of his colleagues saw business drop off by 40% and that without this law, the archdiocese would develop a monopoly on the market.

I believe that the archdiocese or any other religious group interested in producing headstones has grounds to file a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey over this headstone law as it violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The law is not neutral towards religion, both facially and in practice. The law could have attempted to convey neutrality by barring and nonprofit organization who owns a cemetery from selling headstones but the language of the law plainly says that it is specifically targeting groups that are religious. It appears that secular organizations who could have similar tax benefits as churches would be able to market headstones without any restrictions.

While the facial discrimination towards religious groups is enough for a court to justify striking down this law, some might argue that this law is in fact neutral because is facially neutral towards all religion. While the law imposes the same limits on all religious groups, the law in practice targets religions who hold in-ground burials in high regard like Catholicism. While the trade association expressed concern that any religious group could participate in the headstone business, their main concern was immediately stopping just one group in the Archdiocese of Newark. If the Supreme Court eventually hears a case involving this law, they would do well to follow the president set in Church of Babalu v. Hialeah where the city of Hialeah passed a law outlawing unnecessary killings of animals in public or in private as a part of a ritual. This law was not passed until the church leased land in the city and the public demanded that legislation prohibiting animal sacrifice be passed. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy asserted that Haileah’s law was not neutral and therefore should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and would need to be justified by a compelling state interest.

In Church of Babalu v. Hialeah, the Court ultimately did not buy the city’s argument that there was a compelling state interest to reduce unnecessary animal death since multiple provisions were made to allow animal eradication by private companies. Ultimately, it was a case where one minority religion’s religious practice was targeting by the majority. Like Church of Babalu, I don’t think New Jersey has a compelling enough state interest to justify passing such an unneutral law. The law is narrowly tailored so that it only acts on behalf of the Monument Builders of New Jersey. The law does not attempt to prevent religious groups or nonprofit groups in general from participating in business practices in general but only specifically in headstones and funeral homes. This law is not at all neutral towards religion and is not designed with a clear compelling state interest and therefore is not constitutional.

Is New Jersey’s law constitutional? Should religious groups be able to compete with other firms? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Covered Girl Challenge in Public High School

A Muslim Student Association group at a public high school in Mason, Ohio organized a voluntary school-wide event called “Covered For a Day.” The purpose of this event was to have female students wear a hijab, or a headscarf worn by Islamic women, on one day to raise cultural awareness. The school’s Student Activities Department sent out an email to parents of the high school students stating that the primary goal of this event was to “celebrate the school’s unique and diverse student body.” Along with the female student participation of wearing hijabs, pupils both male and female were also invited to an open discussion during school hours. Parents who wanted their children to partake were asked to fill out a permission slip.

The school began receiving many complaints in the immediate aftermath of this email. The principal of Mason High School, Mindy McCarty-Stewart, then sent a follow up email apologizing. “This previous communication should not have come from out Student Activities Department because this was a student-led initiative, rather than a school-sponsored activity.” McCarty-Stewart went on to say that after much consideration, the ‘Covered Girl Challenge’ event was cancelled.

I do not believe that the event should have been cancelled. While I understand how some could view this event as controversial, many critics were simply angry due to the prejudice they felt towards Islam. One parent responded in an email “You’re spending our money to support Islam…” While another wrote, “Stop trying to down play the horrible things that have occurred in this nation at the hands of Muslims.” It is clear that people have negative stereotypes about a religion and its practices. This event was singled out because many people did not feel that this was an acceptable religion to be celebrated or respected. The school cancelling this event suggests that it agrees with this idea.

I do not believe that this is an establishment of religion because the school did not sponsor it. The principal expressly pointed out that it was a student-run initiative. Taxpayer dollars were in no way being used to support this event or any religion at all. I do agree that the school made a mistake in using its Student Activities Department to endorse the event, however. The school should not have played a role in actively supporting and raising awareness for this religiously affiliated event. The event would have been less controversial had some students created an event on Facebook, for example. That being said, I feel that it was possibly a violation of rights to prohibit the students from participating in this day of cultural awareness. Cancelling this event, in my opinion, is the school’s way of validating negative stereotypes about a religion and the culture that comes alongside it. The principal set a bad example by letting the intimidators win and cancelling a diverse and cultural event.

In my opinion, the students of Mason High School have a right to organize and celebrate religious diversity at school, so long as it is not intrusive, harmful, or school-sponsored. This event clearly was not harming anyone. It was simply raising awareness for a culture and religion that many students in the school identify with. Cancelling this event most likely alienates the Muslim students attending MHS even further by suggesting that celebrating their diversity is not a worthy task and that their religion and practices are dangerous. Islam often has a negative connotation, and these students were simply hoping to lessen this stereotype within their community.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. These students should be able to practice their religion and should be able to have discussions about their religion. Furthermore, this was a completely voluntary event and no students were required to participate in it if they did not wish to. I do not believe that this event would have been unconstitutional. In fact, I see a possible constitutional violation by prohibiting the event. As the political cartoon above suggests, would the school cancel a student-led initiative for a ‘wear your cross’ day? Islam is being singled out here because it is not deemed an acceptable religion, and that seems to be preferencing one religion over another. Overall, I do not believe that the school should have cancelled this student-run diversity event.

What do you think? Was the school simply working to not establish a religion? Or did MHS give in to bigotry and discrimination?