Friday, May 19, 2006

The dress Jacqueline Duty tried to wear to her Russell High School prom last year was an homage to the Confederate flag. When she was turned away at the door, she turned to Richmond-based attorney Earl-Ray Neal for help.

They filed a suit complaining that she not only was barred from the dance but also was told to stay in her vehicle. Mr. Neal helped defend her free-speech rights, and she eventually reached a settlement with the Russell Independent School District.

Fast forward a year, and African-American students in the Harambi Club at Tates Creek High School in Lexington are barred from wearing graduation sashes with kente cloth designs.

To whom did they turn for help? The very same Earl-Ray Neal.

Senior Kamisha Allen explained. She told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Mr. Neal is "not a lawyer for the Confederate flag," but rather "a lawyer for the First Amendment." He met with the Tates Creek students, counseling them on their rights, and this week principal Sam Meaux made the right decision. Next week the 40 students will wear kente sashes in their graduation procession.

What a glorious lesson for everybody: The First Amendment is the First Amendment.

It applies equally to those who would honor their Southern heritage with a prom gown that might disgust some people, and to those who would recognize African-American heritage and culture in a way some might think inappropriate for graduation.

The answer to speech that one may find offensive is more, better speech.

On The Web: http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060519/OPINION01/605190365