Editorial

Editorial by the Plain Talk You haven�t seen any ink in the Plain Talk devoted to a side-issue that developed just before a long-standing tradition between South Dakota State University and The University of South Dakota came to an end last Saturday.

It�s an issue that, frankly, we assume many people think has gotten too much attention.

You guessed it. We�re going to talk about the T-shirts. For the first and only time.

The Argus Leader was gracious and allowed us to reprint a story this week that appeared in its Wednesday edition. The article states that the Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence turned down a $200 donation from three USD students who sold T-shirts with the message �Beat State ? Not Your Wife.�

According to the story, an anonymous USD alumnus had offered to match the students� donation if the organization declined their offer.

The shirts, which were sold in the week before the USD/SDSU basketball games in the DakotaDome Saturday, alluded to a recent incident involving Fred Oien, SDSU�s athletic director.

He faces two misdemeanor counts of assaulting his wife and trying to stop her from calling authorities.

This incident, along with what appears to be the end of a long, emotional athletic rivalry between the two schools as SDSU moves to Division I, helped the three USD students sell hundreds of shirts.

The students� claim, however, that the shirts were meant only to raise awareness of domestic abuse, rings hollow. So does their refused $200 donation.

The words on the shirts � the message that we will emphasize time and again is protected by the First Amendment � had no real socially redeeming credibility.

It�s the one part of this whole brouhaha that the students don�t quite seem to get. Yes, this is America. The fact that the U.S. Constitution protects your speech, however, doesn�t give it meaning.

It�s incredibly easy to assume that the shirts� message wasn�t designed to address domestic violence at all.

The words were designed merely as fuel to stoke the passion of USD students as they cheered for the Coyotes and expressed nearly every verbal epithet imaginable against the Jackrabbits.

Why were the shirts allowed in the DakotaDome?

The students who produced and who purchased and wore the shirts did nothing illegal. The message on their T-shirts wasn�t profane, and, as I�m sure they and others will quickly point out, they had every right to express themselves.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hughes, writing his opinion in Near vs. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, emphasized the importance of protecting the freedom of expression from prior restraint � in other words, he believed that ideas should be allowed to be disseminated to the public rather than suppressed by the government.

�Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this, is to destroy the freedom of the press; but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal,� Hughes wrote, �he must take the consequence of his own temerity.�

Obviously, there are people who question the propriety of the shirts� message.

There are many, from USD administrators to the general citizenry in Vermillion, who judge them to be highly mischievous.

They aren�t illegal, however, and that, primarily, is the only reason students were allowed to wear them.

We hope students take the consequence of their own temerity, to paraphrase Hughes, and will learn a lesson from the anonymous donor who stepped in to help the Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

That person used a unique form of self-expression that exudes nothing but high class.

It�s a message that, unlike the students�, has true meaning.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias, a graduate of SDSU who relishes the freedoms afforded to citizens in the Bill of Rights. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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