The phrase was made famous in 1964 when used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to offer a threshold test for obscenity in the landmark case of Jacobellis vs Ohio.
By definition, “inappropriate touching”—especially when occurring in an educational setting—is . . . well, it’s just . . . inappropriate.
Take the Seminole County, Florida, School District’s code of conduct, which prohibits “inappropriate or obscene acts,” including “unwelcome or inappropriate touching, or any other physical act that is considered to be offensive, socially unacceptable or not suitable for an educational setting.” Says the District, all “public displays of affection” constitute such “inappropriate or obscene acts” prohibited under its code of conduct. Earlier this year, District officials added “hugging” to its existing ban on holding hands, linking arms and kissing. Hugging on campus in Seminole County is now out, even among family members.
Consider the recent case of Ella, an eighth grader at Jackson Heights Middle School in Oviedo, Florida. Learning that one of her classmates was having a bad day, she gave him a consoling hug that, according to witnesses, lasted approximately one second. In spite of the fact that she otherwise has a spotless record, school officials issued a reprimand to Ella. As a result, Ella will be required to serve one day in detention at her school tomorrow. Imagine what will happen if Ella’s mom takes her daughter to school tomorrow and is seen giving her a supportive hug as she goes off to serve her detention!
When questioned about their policy, and asked if they really can’t tell the difference between an appropriate hug and an inappropriate hug, school officials defiantly responded that all hugs are inappropriate because who knows what can grow out of a supposedly appropriate hug—even among family members!
One wonders if Seminole County School District officials have adopted its stance because they don’t feel school officials are capable of knowing inappropriate touching when they see it. So, they just banned all touching. It does make their job easier. But is the purpose of the District’s code of conduct to make their job easier?
I don’t know about you, but I think I know obscenity when I see it and I think I know inappropriate touching—and obvious exercise of poor judgment—when I see it. Somehow I don’t think the world will crumble because Ella gave her classmate a momentary and caring public display of affection. On the other hand, our world can ill afford the likes of many more school districts like Seminole County.
Like Justice Potter, I do believe we all are capable of knowing an act of obscenity when we see it. And tomorrow when Ella is made to serve her day of detention, we will all witness an extreme act of obscenity.
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