In Defense of Institutional Political Neutrality at LFHS


Photo credit Young Americans for Freedom; editing by Kelsey Marx

Young Americans for Freedom’s “Never Forget” display along N McKinley, 11 Sep

Kelsey Marx, Staff Writer

Kelsey Marx Opinion

On the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our nation, local residents awoke to the sight of 2,977 miniature American flags lining the street in front of Lake Forest High School. The tribute was moving, with students and parents alike taking to social media to praise the club responsible for it, LFHS’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). But upon discussion of both the process and the origin of the display, it wasn’t long before the parents and residents of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff initiated a great deliberation via Facebook comments.

After hours of debate, local residents established collective support for honoring the victims of 9/11 — nobody took issue with the flags themselves. The controversy ultimately boiled down to a question of whether or not Lake Forest High School should have allowed YAF’s display on its property. On the surface, and given the limited information provided to residents about the organization, it’s conceivable that some would view the decision as an attack on so-called free speech. But to argue that the LFHS administration blocked a nonpartisan tribute, or to somehow suggest that the administration lacks patriotism because of it, is pointedly misleading and McCarthyesque. 

If anything, YAF’s own partisanship and adherence to their parent group’s nationally-distributed instruction to include YAF signs with the flags was what warranted the ban. A guide that was written and shared with local YAF chapters by the national headquarters — apparently deemed the “battleplan” — blatantly demands that students “don’t let the Left appropriate this day to promote their politically correct, socialist agenda.” YAF’s website also urges that students “don’t let the leftist bullies at your school get away with infringing on your rights and pushing their bizarre worldview,” suggesting that members file reports against their own schools to “expose their bias and let us [the national organization] help you push back.” 

As Americans, we all enjoy the right to organize, affiliate, and make statements about our beliefs. Support for student-led endeavors in politics, regardless of their ideology, is pretty universal here at LFHS. 

‘Politics’ itself is not a dirty word, and good-faith political engagement should never be looked down upon. But masking political posturing as sheer, inarguable patriotism is both factually incorrect and improper. Undoubtedly, Young Americans for Freedom always holds the right to promote its own brand and website on the same sign that depicts an airplane flying into the Twin Towers. But at the same time, a public school is not obliged to allow such a display on its property, given the partisan affiliation and overt promotion of a national organization that is entirely separate from LFHS. Not to mention, to allow the promotion of a national group whose donors are actively undermining public education on the property of a public school might be perceived as rather alarming. The administration’s decision not to allow the display and the accompanying signs on school property is a testament to its continued emphasis on political neutrality as an institution, and that decision makes our school a better environment for students to make up their own mind, plain and simple.

Lake Forest High School is in no way opposed to honoring those we so tragically lost on September 11, 2001 — the contested position they took was entirely separate from that question. Absent the adherence to an outside, nationwide plan to tack partisan branding onto a memorial, the administration would undoubtedly have backed a student-led effort. The display itself was moving, and I am grateful to my peers for taking the time to remember the victims of 9/11. I am also grateful to my school for its vigilance in protecting students from any perception of school-sponsored political bias while continuing to foster discussion by supporting all student-led clubs. 

Young Americans for Freedom’s inclusion of their own logos and website along with the display was completely up to them, and neither choice is right nor wrong. But with that decision comes a change in the school’s ability to sponsor it — a change that is unsurprising, given any ounce of context.