Civil libertarians denounce schools’ concert cancellations

Monday, May 11, 1998

The Indigo Girl...
The Indigo Girls

Seven national organizations last week denounced the cancellation of three Indigo Girls concerts at high schools in Tennessee and South Carolina and the subsequent suspensions of 13 students who protested the actions.

“The students should be learning that the freedom of expression is the cornerstone of our nation's democracy,” said David Greene, program director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression. “Sadly the school leaders are demonstrating instead that the students' and the performers' fundamental liberties may be thoughtlessly disregarded.”

Last week, the principal at Irmo High School near Columbia, S.C., stopped a free performance from the lesbian folk duo, saying that many people in the community disapproved of the singers' sexual orientation.

Principals at Germantown High School in Germantown, Tenn., and Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tenn., denied that they canceled concerts there because singers Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are gay. They said their decisions came after learning that the duo used profanity at a previous high school concert.

In Knoxville, about 100 students walked out of class to protest the cancellation at their school. Threatened with suspension, all but three returned to class. The three students were then suspended for three days each.

At Irmo, about 50 students walked out of class. After a half-hour, school officials asked the students to go back to class. At least 10 students were given eight-day suspensions for refusing to return to class.

“The students are right to be suspicious of the motives being advanced by the school officials,” said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “Given that the Indigo Girls offered to delete any objectionable language from future concerts, it is hard to believe that there is not an anti-gay and lesbian bias at work.”

Greene said the Indigo Girls situation illustrates how one act of censorship often leads to another.

“Well, it just goes to show—if you make the one false move, the one mistake of censorship that you think is going to be innocuous—how it typically can snowball into something greater,” Greene said. “When someone does it once and gets away with it, it emboldens others who are similar minded to do the same thing.

“That's why we protest every single act of censorship,” he said.

The Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition, Rock Out Censorship, Artists for a Hate Free America, the New England Free Expression Network and the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression also signed petitions to object to the schools' actions.