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Have we gone mad?

Is it just me, or has this nation, conceived in liberty, gone stark-raving mad?

Having been a practicing attorney for nearly a quarter of a century, I have learned that there is not a legal solution to every question nor can legislation cure every ill or address every perceived slight. Neither can square pegs be legislated to fit into round holes. Sometimes, you simply have to suck it up, scuff your heels and curse the gods beneath your breath. Llife ain’t always fair and you can’t depend on

government to always make it so.

With that off my chest, I present to you some random musings which, in the context of the preceding paragraph, make me pull my hair out. What has stirred my incredulity are the following three stories which appeared recently.

– Dateline Portsmouth, Rhode Island. A 17-year old high school geek cum medieval hobbyist spends his free time making like King Arthur. He invests untold hours in whittling medieval arrows and learning to make chain-mail armor. He defines himself in large part by his hobby. He is, literally, a card-carrying member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a 35,000-strong, dues-paying group that stages mock medieval battles, feasts on medieval meals, learn ancient arts (like calligraphy, not witchcraft) and performs medieval demonstrations.

So when the time came to submit a senior yearbook picture, our Bill Gates of medieval hobbyists submitted a snapshot of himself proudly wearing his homespun chain-mail and a prop sword tipped proudly on his shoulder.

But, alas, Portsmouth High School has a “zero tolerance policy” for weapons so his photo was rejected. His family sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming abridgement of our hero’s right to free speech. The Portsmouth High principal said that allowing a student to brandish a weapon (is it brandishing when you’ve got a wooden sword on your shoulder in your living room?) is in violation school policy.

Worth noting is that the high school’s mascot, a patriot, is sometimes shown carrying a musket. A federal court judge has asked the state education commissioner to offer a recommendation to quell this tempest in a chalice.

– Dateline, Whitney Point, New York. Ah, high school sports. The proving ground of budding athletes, a place where lasting friendships and values of fairness and competition are forged. The glue that binds a student body in communal spirit.

Once mainly the bastion of adolescent males, Title IX years ago rightly leveled the playing field. Enacted in 1972, Title IX is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and prohibits sexual discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions. The law requires that males and females receive fair and equal treatment in all parts of public schooling, including athletics. Fair and reasonable; no argument with that.

What seems far-reaching, though, is a new ruling from federal education officials interpreting Title IX. The ruling mandates that cheerleaders, including the Whitney Point Eagles, must wave their pom-poms at 14 Binghamton-area high schools in upstate New York, in equal numbers at boys and girls basketball games and must cheer the teams with “equal enthusiasm.”

What stirred up this squabble in the nest at Whitney High is, of course, the threat of a lawsuit. The mother of a Whitney High female basketball player, against her daughter’s wishes, filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that lack of official sideline support made the girls seem like second class citizens.

Maybe, just maybe, I can see a point here in establishing a policy where cheerleaders attend both boys and girls games. But mandating by the force of law that the cheering must be of equal caliber? Should we really be legislating enthusiasm? Doesn’t enthusiasm fall within the realm of freedom of thought and freedom of action, and isn’t that the very essence of our Constitutional freedoms? Egads, what’s next? Will we be required to embrace the Rockies with enthusiasm equal to the Broncos?

– Dateline, El Paso, Texas. In the Lone Star State, that bastion of fierce and independent people, the Texas Legislature is pondering making missing a parent-teacher conference a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

“This bill gives teachers and school administrators another tool to guarantee parental involvement in schools,” said Rep. Wayne Smith, the author of the bill.

That may be true, but do we really want to head down that slippery slope? Do we want to make it a crime to not be an involved parent? Haven’t enough failed laws already taught us that another statute on the books cannot and will not make a parent a good and caring mentor.

Not every problem has a legal solution. Shouldn’t the goal be equal opportunity rather than to mandate equal outcomes? Wouldn’t we be better served by our legislators if they aimed their sights on reasonable and achievable goals instead of trying redress the picayune, the inherently unfair and tempered broad mandates with a little reason? Shouldn’t we stand up, now and then, and simply tell our legislators “no?”

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net


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