Controversy surrounds 2017-2018 pawprint regulations

Branden Alford, Editor-in-chief

At Burlington High School, traditions run deep. For years, one of these has been giving members of the Senior Class who are involved in a fall activity the chance to paint a paw in front of the stadium with their names and what defines them.

   Last year, for the first time, members of every fall activity, regardless of class, were given a paw. The walk from the locker rooms to the field gates is covered with these.

   Allowing every participating student the opportunity to do this was an amazing idea:  students being allowed to express their individuality and their pride in the activity they were involved in.

   This year, however, things also changed for the worse. Unlike years previous, paws were censored of anything personal, including references to religion, other activities, or relationships.

   Personally, my paw made a reference to a verse in the Bible and had a cross, just like last year. It is supposed to be about me, and my faith is the biggest part of me. However, these were painted over afterwards.

   This is not an isolated event, sadly. After seeing the paws the first night, I know how many people had made references to the “banned” parts of our lives. Coming back on the second night, it became fairly clear that many paws were altered.

     Catbackers, the group that sponsors and pays for the materials required to paint the paws, decided that this year would be the year to crack down on personality and individuality.

   One member of the group, when questioned on her reasoning behind changing the rules this year, stated, “If individuals are allowed to put crosses on their paws, then we have to allow people who want to put a devil head or a swastika on their paw to do so.”

   I understand their reasoning for censoring the paws that would make our school look bad. However, I feel their justification is not only a bit over-reactionary but also unconstitutional, per numerous Supreme Court precedents on the issue of the freedom of expression in public schools.

   I’ll focus specifically on my faith issue.

   In 1995, the Supreme Court set guidelines for public schools on religion and expression thereof. In the majority decision, they wrote that schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious beliefs in any way.

   By eliminating students’ rights to express on their paw their religious beliefs, no matter whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, secularism, atheism, or anything in between, Catbackers is violating students’ guaranteed First Amendment rights.

   On the other hand, they may say, “Our supplies, our project, our rules.”

    Are painting paws even worth it anymore under these new stipulations? If students are not allowed to express who they are as a person, then I feel the answer is no.