By Nik Camargo News Reporter
In today’s polarized society in the United States, what students wear to school is subject to increasing scrutiny. Since as far back as the Vietnam War, there has been tension between students’ right to express their political opinion and school authorities’ concern about distractions and potential conflicts.
In 1969, in response to the Nixon Administration’s policy to escalate the war, a student in Des Moines, Iowa wore a black armband in protest of the government policy and was suspended from school. Consequently, the issue of student dress provided a lawsuit that ultimately reached the US Supreme Court, in which Tinker V Des Moines ruled that a student’s right to wear articles of clothing supporting or opposing certain political causes or individuals is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Subsequent court rulings have upheld the decision and extended it to include shirts displaying explicitly political campaign advertisements.
Because of these important decisions upholding the right to voice political opinions in public, including in school environments, I strongly support the right for students at Mercersburg Academy to wear politics-related clothing or to display political merchandise. Not only is this a right that we are legally entitled to under the Constitution, but it also does not conflict with the fundamental values or rules of our school. Thus, I believe that as long as students do so in a respectful manner and within the confines of what is logically passable for school clothing, this would serve to help students identify what ideological bearings they follow. That said, this should only be done if the messages are not blatantly offensive, disrespectful, or violent; this clearly rules out anything that alludes to violent extremist groups.
I believe that our tolerant and open school environment has prepared us with the ability to engage in courageous conversations and express our diverse opinions. Therefore, I do not see a great possibility for students with political-themed clothing or items to generate real conflicts. In fact, some students already openly discuss and/or display political opinions with their roommates, close friends, and even in civil, moderated debates in our history and social science classes. Moreover, the vast majority of Mercersburg students will not let differing political beliefs get in the way of friendships.
Mercersburg is an exceptional example an American school today where political discussions and policy debates over difficult issues can still occur in a civil way, with a goal of seeking a solution rather than simply being “right.”’ We should applaud the student body at large for continuing to do this and give them the space to further express themselves politically through their apparel.