Tuesday, February 08, 2005

It's about intent

At Bullitt Central High School in Shepherdsville, Kentucky (near Louisville), a teen and his mother decided to protest the administration's decision to allow two Muslim girls to don hijabs, traditional head scarves, ostensibly because it violates the school's rather strict dress code.

So the son wore a shirt with the words "FBI" and "Firm Believer In Christ" on it, also in violation of the dress code, and was told he couldn't wear it. So the mother withdrew him from the school and organized a protest.

Pretty soon, the protest metastasized into something else:
School officials and students said Whiteside's protests attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan. She was joined outside the school by other men and women, some of whom were clad in white robes and carried Confederate flags and white-supremacist regalia.

Whiteside said she didn't organize any involvement with the KKK, adding that her concerns were being misconstrued by students and school officials as racially driven.

"That got out of hand," she said. "It wasn't a racial thing. It was about equal rights and fairness to all students."

But Farris said if anyone has made the issue a racial argument, it was Whiteside.

Bullitt Central students Charlie Johnson and Cayce Dever, both seniors and student government officers, agreed with Farris.

"I feel they were using the dress code to hit on something broader, and that's hate," Charlie said.

Cayce said that when she participated in a counterprotest last week with other students, including Charlie, she spoke with protesters standing with Whiteside and told them that federal law protected the Muslim students' cultural dress.

"They said I didn't understand because I didn't have white pride," Cayce said.

"I said, 'I have American pride.' "

Though the mother, Mrs. Whiteside, tried to distance herself from the Klan support, she went on to say that she intended to put together a petition urging "equal rights for everyone" -- suggesting, evidently, that ordinary white kids were being discriminated against. (Hmmmm ... where have we heard that before?)

As the other teens at the school point out, the hijabs are well within the spirit of the dress code, which is not intended to stop people from wearing clothes that are part of their religious beliefs -- which, in fact, would be in violation of federal codes. The dress codes are intended to enforce modesty in dress. Hijabs are nothing if not modest.

What Mrs. Whiteside's intent is, however, remains somewhat murkier.

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