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Tongue Tied: Offensive Eagles, Militaristic Music and an Assault on Christopher Columbus

A 16-year-old student at Fairview High School in Cleveland was suspended for ten days because school officials believed that signs on his locker depicting planes bombing Afghanistan were threatening to Arab-American students, reports The Plain-Dealer.

Aaron Petitt and his parents sued, and last week a federal judge overturned the suspension.

The signs included an eagle with a tear dripping from its eye and the burning World Trade Center towers in the background. Another showed American Airlines planes dropping bombs. Below it, he wrote, "Good Morning, Afghan." A third showed the planes and bombs and included the statements, "May God have mercy because we will not" and "It's what dreams are made of ... Dreams do come true."

School officials took the signs down Oct. 3, saying they were inappropriate and could offend Middle Eastern students. Petitt, a rugby player who one day hopes to serve in the military, was suspended the next day.

'Rockets Pink Glare,' Maybe? 

The Madison, Wis., school board is coming under considerable criticism for barring the Pledge of Allegiance from schools and demanding that only instrumental versions of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played because the lyrics are too bellicose, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Members of the board said they were trying to comply with a new state law requiring schools to offer the pledge or national anthem but still protect the rights of students who didn't want to feel compelled to recite their loyalty to "one nation under God."

Parents and others have denounced the action as unpatriotic, especially with the country at war against terrorism. Some are already mounting an effort to recall the board members who voted in favor of the ban. 

The board said it would reconsider its decision this week.

Soothing the Savage Soul 

Complaints from a teachers union in Britain are forcing organizers of a concert there to rewrite the words of an old anthem because it is "too jingoistic" for the age, reports The Times of London.

The organizer of the Schools Prom at Royal Albert Hall next month rewrote "Land of Hope and Glory" to replace a phrase about God making the empire "mightier yet" to one expressing the hope that music will "bring the world together."

The National Union of Teachers is not satisfied, though. It thinks any version of the song is out of place, claiming that such a "triumphalist song" is inappropriate in light of the current conflict in Central Asia.

Brief Brush With Sanity in Berkeley 

Student leaders who attempted to punish the newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley for running an editorial cartoon they considered offensive to Muslims have backed off their plan, reports the Contra Costa Times.

Earlier, student senators Tony Falcone, Evan Holland and Sajid Khan introduced a bill calling the cartoon "within the realm of fair comment and free speech, but ... outside of the realm of human decency, sensitivity, responsibility and respect."

The trio wanted to raise the paper's $7,400-a-month rent as punishment, as well as force it to run a full-page apology and institute diversity training for its staff. The revised bill drops the rent increase but maintains the demand for an apology and cultural sensitivity training.

The cartoon, which ran Sept. 18, showed two bearded, turbaned men in hell. One man says: "We made it to paradise! Now we will meet Allah, and be fed grapes, and be serviced by 70 virgin women, and ..."

Fightin' Words 

Officials at the Rocklin Unified School District in California are vowing to fight to keep "God Bless America" on the sign outside Breen Elementary School in spite of protests from the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, reports the Sacramento Bee

The ACLU said in a letter to the district that the sign is not constitutional and that the words send "a hurtful, divisive message" to a group of "religiously pluralistic" students.  

But the school district is standing its ground, citing a California Supreme Court decision stating that "God Bless America" is a traditional, nonreligious, patriotic phrase.

"They picked the wrong issue, they picked the wrong time and they picked the wrong community," said Mark Forbes, the Rocklin school board president.

The trustees are scheduled to meet this week to consider a resolution encouraging all their schools to display similar messages.

More Fun in Madison 

Officials in Wisconsin are considering dropping its decade-old ban on religious-themed ornaments on the holiday tree at the state Capitol, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The annual tree on the Capitol rotunda has been carefully labeled a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree" since the mid-1980s, when a lawsuit challenged the presence of the tree on church-state grounds. Since then, the state has also prohibited any ornaments of a religious nature.

This year the organizers of the project, the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, say they may once again allow the public to submit ornaments with religious themes.

"It would be my intent that any policy be inclusive, and if that upsets the people who want to squeeze all the meaning out of the holiday, so be it," said Administration Secretary George Lightbourn. "The tree is for the people of Wisconsin."

'Mockingbird' Back In 

The Muskogee, Okla., school board has voted to put the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird back on the required reading list for ninth-graders there, reports The Associated Press.

This, after the principal removed the book from the list in August because he received complaints from black students and parents about racial slurs in the book.

The book, by Harper Lee, revolves around the wrongful conviction of a black man for raping and beating a white woman. The story was told from the viewpoint of a young white girl whose father represented the black man at his trial.

Dan Hattaway, an assistant principal asked to review the book for the school board, said most students didn't have a problem with the book.

Hattaway said many of the books on the reading lists "use some language that shouldn't be used in school. But if you threw out everything that was objectionable to people, we'd be using a watered-down version or we'd all be reading Dr. Seuss."

Maggie's Mess 

Some Muslim leaders in Britain are demanding that the Baroness Thatcher be investigated for inciting racial hatred because she insisted she had "not heard enough condemnation from Muslim priests" of the Sept. 11 attacks, reports The Times of London.  

Ahmed Versi, editor of London's Muslim News, called the former prime minister's remarks "Islamophobic" and inflammatory.

"She should not be allowed to feed the flames against Muslims at a time when the government and community leaders are trying to restore calm," he said. "We hope that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner sends her case to the Crown Prosecution Service for action."

Assault on Columbus Continues 

The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs is urging state and local officials in that state to stop celebrating Columbus Day because it reinforces historical inaccuracies, reports the AP.  

The commission says the holiday is an affront to minorities. Richard Regan, a Lumbee Cheraw Indian who heads it, said observing Columbus Day reinforces historical inaccuracies.

"He did not do what most schoolchildren in this country think he did, which was discover America," he said. "Columbus did not discover anything, he was lost."

The commission, who led a semi-successful summer crusade to end the use of Indian-themed mascots in Maryland, passed a resolution condemning Columbus for the "torture, rape and murder" of Indians he encountered upon arriving in the New World and for invading North and South America "with the intent to pillage and forcefully conquer and convert otherwise spiritual and prosperous human beings in order to increase his personal wealth and status."

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's office dismissed the proposal.

No Laughing Matter 

A federal judge in Omaha, Neb., declared a mistrial in a civil case against two police officers accused of using excessive force after the plaintiffs' attorney objected to a joking comment the judge made about Mexicans, reports the Omaha World-Herald.  

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon halted the trial of a civil case against a pair of Omaha police officers accused of using excessive force while arresting a Mexican-American man.

During jury selection, a prospective juror told the judge that her husband had been arrested in Mexico, and had been jailed wearing little or no clothing. Bataillon responded that people traveling in Mexico should carry a little extra cash in their pocket.

He later told the paper that he was trying to make a joke about some Mexican officials' reputation for taking bribes. But the plaintiffs, who are also Mexican-American, complained.

"The message telegraphed to the jury by a person of authority was: It is OK to apply a lesser standard to people of Mexican heritage," said Dorothy A. Walker, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

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