By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
Orgasm donor. Just like the words leap off the page to you, so did the phrase jump off the shirt to me. When I saw a white T-shirt with those two words plastered across the front on sale in the Steve and Barry’s store in the Abilene mall, I could not believe anybody would buy such a repulsive innuendo. And then, I saw a young teenage girl wearing the shirt at Dante’s Pizza in the same mall. Even though her garment appalled me, I was more shocked by the scene that followed.
As the girl, who might have been a freshman in high school, ate lunch with her boyfriend, a mall security guard came up to her and told her she needed to change the shirt. She could either turn her T-shirt inside out or buy a new shirt. The guard then escorted her to the nearest bathroom and waited until she had complied.
I had never felt so indignant to see an offensive object removed from my sight. This security guard, who was an elderly woman, used her authority and the girl’s inexperience to completely violate her Constitutional rights. She disregarded the First Amendment and its protections as established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As early as the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled expressive speech is protected speech. In Cohen v. California, a 19-year-old man wore a jacket that read “[expletive] the draft” in a courtroom. Although his jacket did not provoke a disturbance or riot, he was arrested for such an offense. Upon hearing his case, the Court stated his actions were legal under the First Amendment.
A jacket, a T-shirt-I see a close similarity. And although the girl was not arrested for her shirt, she was intimidated into limiting her free speech by an authority figure who perhaps even threatened her with “mall jail.”
But does the Supreme Court see a courtroom and a shopping mall through the same lenses? Unfortunately, no. They are not both public forums or places where people can speak and wear what they want without breaking the law. The courtroom is a public forum because it is a public facility, but a mall is a private property. In 1980, the Court ruled states can decide on an individual basis whether to extend the right of free speech to a private shopping area like a mall. So far, California, Colorado, New Jersey and Massachusetts have chosen to give this protection for “political speech.”
Why does Texas not see a shopping mall as a public forum? Because most judges say private property should be treated like private property, and not as a public free speech zone.
I disagree. Ironically, if the girl had refused to turn her shirt inside out or leave the premises, she could have been arrested for criminal trespass, but only because her free speech was limited by a private citizen (i.e. security guard) and not the government. The Texas court system keeps the government to higher standards. Why is the same speech protected from one party’s limitations and not the other? It is the same speech!
I have heard of an organ donor, but never an “orgasm donor” until this weekend. But, I hav e heard of the First Amendment, and as Justice Harlan said in the Cohen case, “One man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”