What began as an effort by some students at a Virginia high school to support the people of Ukraine has grown into a battle over free speech.
Blacksburg High School girls lacrosse players had been wearing shirts that said “Pray for Peace” and bore the Ukrainian flag. The shirts were worn during warmups and not games.
But Montgomery County school officials, with the shrugging consent of the school board, have said that the slogan is in conflict with district policy on political displays, according to The Roanoke Times.
“The Girls Lacrosse Team is no longer permitted to wear the Pray for Peace t-shirts at home or away events as warm up gear,” a school email told the students, according to TownHall. “The message conveyed by the shirts, although positive in nature and well meaning, can be interpreted as religious and political in nature.”
PRAY FOR COMMON SENSE WHILE YOU’RE AT IT: School officials in #Blacksburg #Virginia ban high school lacrosse players from wearing T-shirts supporting #Ukraine with phrase “Pray for Peace”@RTDNEWS
-Southern politics at ChickenFriedPolitics.com- https://t.co/INEh5Qu4yQ
— ChickenFriedPolitics (@ChkFriPolitics) April 10, 2022
Even a more neutral slogan saying “Play for Peace” was rejected.
“I find it hard to believe that our interpretation of some of the policies would politicize peace, if that’s what we’re doing here,” board member Linwood Hudson said, The Roanoke Times reported.
Interim Superintendent Annie Whitaker was adamant that calling for peace was a polarizing political statement.
“What is the peace from?” Whitaker said. “A war. And a war is rooted in what? It’s a political war, from people who have differing views.”
Whitaker said sports teams should stick to sports.
“There isn’t really a reason within a sports team to be wearing school issued uniforms that are promoting anything other than the sport,” she said. “The purpose of that sport is to play that sport.”
Whitaker also said that because an adult gave students the shirts, even if they agree with the sentiment upon them, banning them does not become a free speech issue.
“If students weren’t being led by an adult and they said ‘hey, we’re doing this, and it’s not a time when we typically wear uniforms,’ then yes, that’s their individual speech,” Whitaker said.
Parent Clare Levison, whose daughter is a senior captain on the lacrosse team, issued a fiery Facebook rebuttal.
“And the winner of today’s Insult to My Intelligence Award goes to…Montgomery County Public Schools, for telling the Varsity Girls Lacrosse team that they can’t wear their Pray for Peace t-shirts while warming up before their games,” she posted on her Facebook page.
“Pray for Peace is not a religious statement that requires separation of church and state. It is one that all Presidents in power, regardless of political party, reference on a regular basis,” she wrote, later adding, “Pray for Peace is neither a religious nor political statement. It is a universally accepted sentiment.”
In response to Whitaker’s claim that the war in Ukraine is about differing views, she talked about the history of genocide.
“Could someone please let the Jews know that Hitler just had a different view than they had? Could someone please let the Buddhists know that Pol Pot just had a different view than they had? And could someone please let the Russians who were sent to the Gulags know that Stalin just had a different view than they had?” she wrote.
“Furthermore, peace is not just freedom from war. Peace is harmony; peace is serenity; peace is tranquility. And don’t we all want more harmony, serenity, and tranquility in the world?” she wrote.
She then put it all in a nutshell.
“When the top administrator of our county’s education system takes the stance that even peace is controversial, our moral compass hasn’t just been broken. It’s been shattered into a million tiny pieces,” she wrote, writing elsewhere, “When there is no one who will stand up for even universally accepted truths, we inch ever closer to 2+2=5.”
“Apparently, the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools wishes to remain neutral on Praying, Playing, or even Standing for Peace,” she also wrote.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.