Confederate prom dress doesn’t pass muster

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It’s not often that a prom dress triggers a First Amendment controversy, but a Tennessee high school student’s attire did just that.

Gibson County High School student Texanna Edwards was turned away from her high school prom on Saturday night, April 21, because she was wearing a dress that bore a striking resemblance to a Confederate flag. According to the Jackson Sun, school administrators viewed the dress as inappropriate and potentially offensive.

It’s not unusual for public school administrators to infringe on free-speech rights of students. Too often student expression is limited because of the potential for embarrassment and not a genuine fear of disruption.

In this case, though, the school has the law on its side. Few symbols are potentially more divisive than the Confederate flag. On one side are those who value the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage. Others see it as a racist symbol. A teacher had alerted Edwards that her dress might not be permitted at the prom two months before the event, but Edwards persisted with her plan.

The Supreme Court has found that students’ expression — which includes what they wear — can be limited by school officials only if there’s a likelihood of substantial disruption. That test is probably met in this case.

Of course, if Edwards’ fashion statement was intended to make a political statement, then there are other avenues available to her. Given the press coverage of her thought-provoking dress, she now has a platform to share her views and no school administrator can stand in her way.

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