As Americans, we were given the right to free speech when our Constitution and with it, the First Amendment, was written all those years ago. However, that right is unfortunately infringed upon on occasion.
Most often, this happens when someone gets offended by the thoughts or statements of others. But as this case points out, sometimes, our freedom of speech is buried just for fear that it might offend.
I give you Louisiana’s Washington Parish, where high school seniors at Pine Junior-Senior High School can pay to paint their assigned school parking spot. It’s a cool tradition, to say the least. And one that quite naturally comes with a few guidelines.
Mainly, whatever is painted must not include obscene images or language and cannot use other students’ names, according to the New Orleans Advocate.
It’s a simple and rather straightforward rule and one that senior Ned Thomas had no problem complying with.
So why then did the Washington schools Superintendent Frances Varnado have his spot painted over?
Like all other high school seniors wishing to paint their parking spots, Thomas sent in his ideas for approval. He asked to paint a portrait of President Donald Trump wearing a patriotic stars and stripes bandana and a pair of sunglasses.
And it was approved.
However, Superintendent Varnado had the spot painted over with gray paint after the actual portrait was rendered.
Her excuse: it was “too political.”
Mind you; this is a simple patriotic portrayal of a sitting US president.
It’s not a message of how Trump is better than Biden. It doesn’t imply any partisan ideas. Neither does it even speak about politics.
In fact, it’s not any different than painting an image of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or any other patriotic emblem you could imagine.
And yet somehow, paying homage to our nation and its current leader is “too political?”
Of course, Varnado claims she was just trying to avoid controversy. And I do get that to some degree. Naturally, any kind of political reference is bound to get a few condescending remarks at this point.
But I think it’s safe to say that Varnado got more heat from her action than if she had just left it alone.
Not only did Ned’s parents quite angrily let her know of their displeasure for denying their son his right to free speech, but they also filed a federal lawsuit against the school.
And as we all know, the law, i.e., the Constitution, is very much on Thomas’ side.
Even a Judge appointed by Bill Clinton could see that.
US District Judge Eldon Fallon wrote in his findings, “The painting of President Trump cannot reasonably be described as obscene or plainly offensive on it face, (pun intended) nor can it be construed as school-sponsored speech.”
Fallon notes, as I mentioned above, Thomas’ image “depicts the sitting President of the United States.” It would be different if Ned painted “a symbol such a Confederate flag, which has an established meaning as a ‘symbol of racism and intolerance,’ regardless of whatever other meanings may be associated with it.”
And so the image must be seen as a form of free speech by this student, which, as Johnathan Turley once noted, Ned still has the right to even within the confines of school.
In a similar case taken to the Supreme Court in 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Thankfully, Fallon is one of those judges who actually allows the Constitution to rule the day and his court.
As for Thomas’s parking spot, he has been allowed to repaint it as before without fear of punishment, just as it should be.
That’s one of America’s very best attributes, that we can express our opinions, even political and unpopular ones, without fear.
If only the offense police and Karens of the world would understand that and just let be. They might actually learn to enjoy life; hell, they might even learn a thing or two while they are at it.