MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

April 7, 2010

Beyond the chiffon, proms can be speech battlegrounds

High school prom season is upon us — generally a pleasant mix of music and memories for teens, with maybe a bit of angst over getting the right date or dress.

But through the years this annual rite at times has also been an unlikely battleground over social issues, as in Mississippi recently, and over some of what the nation’s Founders called our inalienable rights — freedom of assembly and free speech.

In the 1920s and 1930s, proms as we know them began at elite Northeastern colleges, according to the Web site “Pretty for Prom” and several books and articles. In those years, proms were shaped by economic class distinctions: Kids from the wrong side of the tracks initially weren’t welcome. By World War II, prom vogue was more democratic.

A generation or two later, in the 1960s and ‘70s, even though many schools and proms had been integrated for years, news accounts show that racially mixed prom couples were the stuff of controversy.

Over the last 20 years, prom night has been affected by concerns over alcohol abuse, campaigns against drunk driving, and free-speech court battles like that at an eastern Kentucky school in 2004 involving a young woman’s wish to wear a homemade prom dress styled after the Confederate battle flag. When school officials barred her from wearing the dress, she said they had violated her freedom of speech — what’s called “expressive speech” — to proclaim her pride in her Southern heritage. “Her only dance for her senior prom was on the sidewalk to a song playing on the radio,” said her lawyer at the time. Her lawsuit was settled out of court in 2006.

The latest spat: A silk-and-chiffon hubbub that led a federal district judge to conclude on March 23 that Fulton, Miss., school officials violated the free speech of senior Constance McMillen when they canceled Itawamba Agricultural High School’s April 2 prom.

Text Only
Columns
AP Video
Trump: DC Hotel Will Be Among World's Best Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: MH17 Bodies Arrive in Netherlands Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel Clinton: "AIDS-Free Generation Within Our Reach" Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball
Poll

Should a federal judge have the power to strike down Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage?

Yes
No
     View Results
Featured Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Stocks