Ah, Holland. Tulips, wooden shoes, dikes, RARE cases of censorship. Yes, well, we're not talking about the country Holland this time, but rather the town: Holland Michigan. And this is United States, where censorship here has free reign. Eighteen year old Eric Van Hoven, a student at nearby Zeeland High school, found out just how much free reign when he was suspended for wearing a Korn t-shirt to school.
Assistant Principal Gretchen Plewes proclaimed that Zeeland High doesn't allow clothing bearing any references to obscenity, drugs, violence, or sexual innuendo. Her reason for suspending Van Hoven was because she found his shirt "vulgar, obscene, and insulting". We at Rock Out Censorship find the idea of suspending a student for wearing any type clothing an insult to the First Amendment. But, what we find even more insulting and just plain stupid is that the t-shirt Eric Van Hoven was wearing when he was suspended displayed NOTHING MORE THAN THE BAND'S NAME: Korn. Perhaps Gretchen was a bit too displeased with the bands spelling skills???
Eric isn't the first music fan to get into trouble for wearing "offensive" t-shirts. Please see out Incident Update Section http://www.theroc.org/updates/roc9.htm for other t-shirt related stories such as the incidents in Texas (Marilyn Manson) and Florida (Cradle of Filth) But, COME ON. Hasn't this gotten a little out of hand, folks?!? Apparently Van Hoven's fellow high school students think so too; 400 of them have signed a petition started by Van Hoven and his mom protesting Eric's suspension.
Korn's singer Jonathan Davis (and Korn's legal department) has also thrown his hat into the ring to support Eric's case. "After hearing about something as ridiculous as this, we wanted to stand up for the student's rights and let the school district know that we're pissed off at their treatment of the student and their attempts to discredit Korn." The band has even gone so far as to threaten legal action against the school. In a letter hinting at such action, David Baram, Korn's attorney had this to say, "It is sadly ironic that an institution and an individual purportedly existing to expand and provoke the thinking processes of its students have instead chose to punish and pervert the freedom of expression and thought of those students," Baram wrote in a letter dated March 12 to school officials.
After fellow students resisted this blatant form of government censorship in the form of wearing Korn, Tool and other band t-shirts, Eric Van Hoven's attorney, Kerry Love, was prompted to read a letter of protest aloud at the Zeeland school district public meeting last Wednesday. "We're clearly talking about protected expression here. His wearing of the shirts was completely nondisruptive," said Love. (The full text of the letter can be found at the end of this article.)
If you feel as we do, that misguided school policies like this one not only trample one's right to free speech but also get in the way of a student's education, you can tell them so by contacting the Zeeland School District. Let them know they need to concentrate more on teaching and less on frivolity. This Tuesday, March 24, a follow-up meeting will be held to discuss the policy again and a final vote will be called on May 4. Get your voice heard!
Zeeland High School on the web:
On screen comment page:
Zeeland Public Schools
175 W. Roosevelt Ave
Zeeland, MI 49464
Zeeland School Board
Don Van Singel, President
Gary Scholten, VP
Zeeland Superintendent of Schools
Text of Kerry Love's (Van Hoven's attorney) letter to Zeeland school officials:
"After 228 years the struggle for free speech in America continues. On March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre followed demonstrations over the Stamp Act, which required government approval of printed materials. On March 5, 1998, 228 years later, the Zeeland High School T-Shirt Massacre occurred as Eric VanHoven was suspended for wearing a T-shirt containing the single word 'Korn.' This was not a very fitting commemoration of the tragic episode that set America on the road to freedom from government censorship. "Right now students can be suspended for a single, non obscene word: 'Tool' or 'Korn' or any word government bureaucrats search the Internet to find that allegedly implies obscenity, etc., in their unfettered judgment. If freedom of speech doesn't protect the right to display one word, what is left? The freedom to display a blank shirt? America surely stands for greater free speech than this. ... I ask each of you, as parents whose children deserve the legacy of liberty, and as citizens who love America and its great charter of freedom, the Bill of Rights, to support the spirit of freedom and to end the Zeeland High School T-shirt Massacre."