Danielle Bean, a wife and mother of eight, is editorial director of Faith & Family magazine and author of My Cup of Tea, Mom to Mom, Day to Day, and most recently Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Read more of her blogging at Faith & Family Live and DanielleBean.com.
I’m all for school dress codes, but I wonder if the interpretation of this particular one might be going a bit too far. Back in April, a sixth grade student in California wore a pro-life t-shirt to school featuring a photo of an unborn baby.
The shirt featured the word “ABORTION” on the front with three squares below it. The first two squares showed images of fetuses and the third was black. Below the three squares was the caption, “growing, growing … gone.” The back of the shirt read: “American Life League’s Sixth Annual NATIONAL PRO-LIFE T-SHIRT DAY April 29, 2008 www.ALL.org.”
School officials contended that the shirt violated the school’s dress code, which states: “Personal articles, clothing, or manner of dress shall make no suggestion of tobacco, drug, or alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, profanity, vulgarity, or other inappropriate subject matter.”
There is now a lawsuit, of course. The student says her t-shirt was banned because school officials disapproved of its message. School officials contend that this has nothing to do with politics—the images on the t-shirt were just “too graphic.”
So we’re back to the whole idea that images of unborn babies are graphic, scary, and inappropriate for the classroom. Are you buying it? I’m pretty sure I’m not.
But I might be persuaded to believe an argument that the t-shirt was likely to be a cause of distraction and disruption in the classroom. Would we pro-lifers support a student’s right to wear a “graphic” pro-abortion t-shirt, for example? Is the classroom a place for graphic t-shirts of any kind? As pro-life as I am, I’m not sure I believe it is. I would prefer a dress code that explicitly bans all t-shirts with graphics of any kind.
As long as the school rule is not so generally stated, we’ll have teachers picking and choosing which of our students have a right to express themselves. And don’t think any of us can stomach that idea.