Anti-Islam T-shirts in Florida

Dove World Outreach Center T-shirt It seems that some Florida students were sent home or required to change their clothes when they wore t-shirts to school that violated the school’s dress code policy. The shirts, which had a verse from the Gospel of John on the front along with a plug for the Dove Outreach Center, a local church, had the words “Islam is of the Devil” on the back.

Tom Wittmer, the school district staff attorney, explained that the t-shirts could be offensive or distracting to other students.

I can understand that. It’s inappropriate for a public school setting. In other venues, all bets are off. I would think it would be relatively well-established that t-shirts spouting anti-religious, sexist, racist, or profane slogans shouldn’t be worn to a public school. If not because of policy, then maybe out of consideration for fellow students who are trapped in the same building for seven or eight hours a day. Students can take a stand if they want to, but they need to make sure they’re aware of the appropriate time and place. in this case, sending them home to change (or having them change at school) was the best course of action, since the time and place was definitely not appropriate.

Evidently, the students and parents who attend the Dove World Outreach Center are unaware of (or perhaps dismissive of) what constitutes an appropriate time and place. They also seem to have a fairly large bigoted streak.

Wayne Sapp’s daughter, Emily Sapp, 15, was the student sent home from Gainesville High on Tuesday. Both Faith and Emily Sapp said it was their decision, not that of their parents, to wear the shirts to school in order to promote their Christian beliefs. Emily Sapp said the “Islam is of the Devil” statement was aimed at the religion’s beliefs, not its members.

“The people are fine,” she said. “The people are people. They can be saved like anyone else.”

Wow. That’s both ignorant and offensive. She seems entirely ignorant that when she says, “Islam is of the Devil” and “They can be saved like anyone else,” she’s not just attacking the beliefs. That statement also implies that those who believe in Islam are following the devil. But in her Christian-centered world, those people are “fine” because they can be taught that their beliefs are nonsense and that her beliefs are the way and the light. Her statement implies that Muslims are lesser people who need to be saved… that they’re currently just Christians who have strayed from the path and who desperately need her help.

Let me make a distinction here. I personally think that Islam is just as vacuous as Christianity… or Catholicism… or any other theistic religion. However, I’m not of the opinion that they’ll be “fine” if they just give up their beliefs. They are “fine” regardless of what the believe. The only time they’re not “fine” is if they try to impose their beliefs on me or my government. So I am probably offending someone when I say that Christianity is mythological, but I’m actually attacking the belief system, not the person. Young Emily Sapp is attacking the belief system and the people by implying that they’re lost until they accept Jesus.

Her father, unsurprisingly, seems to be the same.

He added that his children decided it was time to “stand up for what they believe instead of saying the rules might not let me do it” and said that society has grown “so tolerant of being tolerant” that free speech is eroding.

Free speech does not erode from greater tolerance. It erodes due to a lack of tolerance. Wearing a shirt with a caustic, offensive, anti-Islam message (or anti-Christian, etc) is saying, “I don’t want your religion to be heard. My religion should be the only one.” Follow that up with “They can be saved like anyone else” and you’ve got yourself some grade-A bigotry… and probably one of the most anti-free-speech attitudes imaginable.

To top it all off, here’s a quote from the church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones.

Jones said that, to him, spreading the church’s message was “even more important than education itself.”

That’s pretty much what religion is all about, isn’t it? Studies constantly show that the religious convictions tend to be inversely proportional to the level of education. The church doesn’t want people who think for themselves. They want people who spread the word and follow the church’s teachings. They want people who feel that those of other faiths “can be saved like anyone else.”

They certainly don’t want free speech.


1 Comment

  1. arachnophilia

    free speech in public schools (specifically through articles of clothing) is protected by tinker v. des moines, 1969.

    the standard in tinker is disruption: the school has a legitimate public interest in education, and speech that disrupts that can (and should be) censored. tinker held that armband were not disruptive, but i’m not sure where hateful messages spelled out on t-shirts would stand.

    it’s probably better they were sent home or forced to change, but i still have my reservations about censoring student speech (no matter how distasteful).