Friday, January 30, 2004

Flaggergasted

From the Sun-Sentinel:

Broward students ousted in drama competition for flag-cutting scene

By Peter Bernard

Staff Writer

Posted January 30 2004, 11:13 AM EST

The play praises patriotism, but the judges only saw teens cutting up an American flag.

It was enough to disqualify Archbishop McCarthy High students from a competition early this week for their performance of The Children’s Story. In the play, first published in 1963 by Shogun author James Clavell, third-graders in a classroom in a United States that has been defeated by a powerful enemy, presumably Communist, cut the flag into pieces. Their new teacher tells them if the flag is so good, everyone should get a piece and tells them to hand out the shreds. It’s a message about the dangers of mindless political indoctrination.

“The play is actually pro-American,” said Erin Fragetta, 15, a sophomore at the southwest Broward County school who worked on the production. “It was intended to be an anti-communist message, and the judges just turned it around on us.”

Zac Ensign, who acted in the play, added: “People just didn’t look at what we were doing for what it was. We never intended for this to be a malicious gesture.”

McCarthy was competing against 10 troupes from Broward public and private high schools at the Florida State Thespians District 13 one-act play competition at Nova High on Monday and Tuesday.

After receiving complaints about the flag cutting, co-chairman Melody Wicht, who teaches drama at Pembroke Pines Charter High, disqualified the McCarthy team.

I don’t even know where to begin on this.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such a statute in 1990 in their ruling in Texas v. Johnson. None other than Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “flag desecration is the ultimate expression of disagreement in a democracy.” So the Florida statute is probably invalid.

Second, this is such an amazing lesson in cruel irony – disqualifying a play about freedom of expression because of freedom of expression – that the only people who get it are the students. What the hell kind of lesson does this teach to our kids? And what kind of blindered idiots do we have teaching our kids?

This is the legacy of living in fear.

[Full disclosure: I have participated in the Florida State Thespians competition as both troupe sponsor and judge.]