Student Suspended in Rhode Island For A White Zombie T-shirt

by Todd Wiese toddw@theroc.org

Okay, okay. You know the routine. A kid wears a T-shirt to school with something on it that someone at the school finds offensive. A teacher or other school official yanks kid out of class and either sends him/her home to change or they suspend him/her. Or they do both!

This time the T-shirt in question has 666 in the front and a lovely portrait of Rob Zombie from the group White Zombie. The student in question is Robert Parker of Westerly High School in Westerly, RI. And no, school officials did NOT approve of Parker's shirt and decided to suspend him, twice! Assistant Principal Jim Spellman's concern was that some people believe that the number 666 is a biblical reference to the devil and therefore, disruptive to other classmates. Does any of this NOT sound familiar?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has filed an appeal with the State Department of Education regarding the shirt. They maintain, as do we at Rock Out Censorship, that a school cannot ban a shirt from campus simply because officials don't like its "devilish" message. Westerly High School DOES, however, permit the wearing of shirts bearing messages of Christianity and other religions. Any student can wear a shirt with, "I will serve the lord" on the front, but you had better not display any number divisible by 37 and 18, OR ELSE!

"Public schools cannot be in the business of approving a T-shirt about the Lord and banning a T-shirt of a rock band, even a sacrilegious one," said attorney John Dineen, an ACLU volunteer. "[Parker] desires to wear his shirt in order to express himself, display his interest in and enthusiasm for certain music, and to exercise autonomy in his chosen clothing." And there's nothing wrong with that! So, say we at Rock Out Censorship as well!

Such a suspension is a violation of not only the student's freedom of expression, but also violates his right to freedom of religion, since the decision was made on the basis of religious belief. Schools cannot ban perceived "Satanic" or "occult" oriented messages any more than they can ban messages of other religions. So this is a First Amendment violation on two different fronts. As government employees, the First Amendment of the Constitution requires school administrators to check their religious prejudices at the door as they apply to school policy. Obviously, with the number of cases similar to this one going on all across the country, there are a large number of school administrators willing and eager to place their religious beliefs as a higher priority than a student's Constitutional rights. This is a sad, but growingly common practice in our nation's schools, and we urge ALL our readers, particularly parents, to speak out at your area schools against such oppressive policies

And yes, here comes the list of people to contact to voice your opposition to double standard dress codes like the one at Westerly High School.

Westerly High School:
Assiatant Principal Jim Spellman
23 Ward Ave.
Westerly, RI 02891
PH: 401-598-2109

RI Department of Education
255 Westminister St.
Providence, RI 02903
PH: 401-222-4600
FAX: 401-222-7874
Commissioner Peter McWalters
PH: 401-222-4600 ex. 2001
FAX: 401-222-6178

For more info or to voice some support for Robert Parker contact:

ACLU of Rhode Island
10 Abbot Park Place, 3rd fl.
Providence, RI 02903
PH: 401-831-7171

The information on which this article was based was obtained from the always helpful ACLU: http://www.aclu.org

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