Constance McMillen Gets Her Day in Court

Surrounded by a flotilla of ACLU attorneys, Constance McMillen made her way into the US District Court House in Aberdeen, Mississippi yesterday. She and her lawyers were there to argue that Itawamba High School should be ordered by the court to un-cancel its prom, once scheduled for Friday, April 2. A federal judge, rather than prom king and queen, presided over this particular court.

The US District Court where Miss McMillen plead her case.

Forgetting for the moment the improbable coincidence that my mother’s first name is “Constance” and her birthday happens to be April 2, it occurred to me this morning to wonder how many Itawamba High students would have excused themselves from the dance because it was to have taken place on Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar.

In the mediarama that ensued after Miss McMillen threatened her first suit (the one that brought her to court on Monday was her second), I do not recall a single comment about this unfortunate timing. And that’s as interesting as it is puzzling, since both supporters and detractors of Miss McMillen were quick to point out that Itawamba County is but one of the many notches of the Bible Belt. A reasonable person might assume that any number of devout parents might have frowned on their son or daughter kicking up his or her heels on this day of solemn contemplation. A reasonable person might even wonder why the powers that be did not glance at a calendar: separation of church and state does not preclude sensitivity to individuals’ religious observances. No college or university that I am aware of—private or public—schedules exams on, for example, Good Friday, Yom Kippur or Eid. I am really curious to know why a high school prom in this instance is so different from an exam. Because it’s voluntary?

I might buy that, if it weren’t for the spontaneous outpourings from Miss McMillen’s cheering squad that attending prom is a “right” of passage that high school students absolutely, positively, can’t-possibly-miss must attend. Elevating a school dance to the level of compulsory life experience makes it at least as important as all those tests that do not take place on certain days of sacred significance. Isn’t the prom therefore also worthy of taking place on a day that allows for more inclusion?

So I guess I also wonder why the Christians who presumably could not attend the Itawamba High School prom because of their religious beliefs didn’t get busy with their legal briefs. Why didn’t they round up publicity-seeking lawyers to plead their case that a Good Friday prom for them would be no prom at all? I am sure someone would have taken up the cause.

I’d like to think it is because, unlike Miss McMillen, these students understood that although they can want something desperately they can’t always have it, even if that something is being withheld from them by people who are thoughtless or bigoted or both. I’d like to think these students chose to choose their battles wisely. That’s called “growing up.” Something I hope in time Miss McMillen will do.

Perhaps on Sunday, April 4 Miss McMillen (R) and her date will wear their prom finery in the Easter Parade.

NOTE to readers: A good account of the March 23 hearing appears in today’s Washington Post. And of course CMM!‘s earlier trenchant commentary, Constance McMillen and Barak Obama: Spiritual Prom Dates, for background and context.

12 thoughts on “Constance McMillen Gets Her Day in Court

  1. In 1900 the President of Harvard University proposed there should be only one required course for undergraduates: ballroom dancing. He was clearly onto something…

    • Well, if you believe in national rankings, it doesn’t matter how long the school year in Mississippi is. Students don’t learn anything anyway. According to a 2006 report from the Southern Education Foundation, Mississippi is “near the bottom in national rankings in…important measures of educational performance. By the most recent comparisons, Mississippi ranks around 47th among the states in high school dropout rates. For 2005 college entrance examinations, Mississippi stood at the bottom in overall ACT scores and scored 50th among the states in all four ACT subjects tested: English, math, reading and science.” I assume they are too busy planning exclusive proms and lawsuits to teach and learn.

  2. What an obnoxious blog! If “Call Me Miss” wants to align herself with bigots, that’s her riight; but it’s nothing to be proud of. Nor do I see anything admirable in her advising a student to “grow up” simply because she is exercising her right to strive for change, and social equality. I commen that courageous girl for asking that she have nothing more than than heterosexual students have–the opportunity to share in an important social experience with a person she cares for. More power to her! “Cal Me Miss,” you’re on the wrong side of history.

  3. Hey, Chip Deffaa you might be right! Callmemiss might very well be an obnoxious blog. It might be, in fact, the most obnoxious blog ever! That would be kinda special don’t ya think? The most obnoxious blog ever. Wow! Pretty cool. The good news is you don’t have to read it! Please believe me. You’ll be much happier if you just live within the narrow costraints of your own particular world view! Be strong, don’t consider for a moment that you don’t have all the answers and that your point of view is not only the right one, but the only worthy one. Or, on the other hand you could just try to chill out. You’ll feel a lot better, you really will. Trust me.

  4. Also at issue is that when you take a stand, even one that is politically fashionable, that there may be consequences that you did not foresee. Like a canceled prom. A prom is not a right, it’s a ritual – one that is not shared by everyone in high school.

  5. Pingback: When Bad Proms Happen to Bad People: Constance McMillen, Yet Again « Call Me "Miss"!

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