Serving at the Pleasure of Government

Originally published 11/2/2003. Links were valid at time of publication.

Two events in as many weeks have brought to light some of the frightening aspects of governmental dominion over private individuals. The first, in Florida, involves the State’s mandate that Terri Shiavo be placed back upon a feeding tube despite her husband’s wishes. Second, this time in Georgia, involves the expulsion of an honor roll student whose fictional story – in a private diary – got her into trouble.

The Terri Shiavo case reached national attention when the Florida State legislature passed a bill that Jeb Bush immediately signed to re-insert the feeding tubes after a Florida Appeals Court had ruled in favor of the husband to remove them. The point that I make here is unrelated to the issue of euthanasia, right-to-die vs. right-to-live, or whether Michael Shiavo should be demonized or his in-laws lionized.

The important point here is how the State – in this case the State of Florida – intervened in what was essentially a private matter between two individual parties when there was no compelling public interest to do so. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that several legal scholars were astounded at the Florida legislature’s chutzpah.

And rightly so. The legislature drafted a bill that was as narrowly scoped as possible. In other words, they have written the law specifically for Terri Shiavo’s situation, and therefore, written it specifically for Terri Shiavo.

At it’s most basic, this means that – under its own authority and initiative – the State has declared itself to “own” Terry Shiavo. Under this ownership, the State then has the right to determine – quite literally – whether or not she lives or dies. That the State chose she live has certainly pleased some people who don’t understand the implications of what the government has done.

If the State can author legislation to take ownership of a specific individual, it can author legislation to take ownership of any individual.

Such is the case in Roswell, Georgia, where 14-year old Rachel Boim was expelled from school for writing a short fictional story wherein a girl falls asleep in class and dreams that she kills a teacher. The story is accompanied by dozens of other drawings, poems, and short writing in Rachel’s private journal, but apparently this was the only story that captured the attention of teacher Travis Carr who confiscated the journal when Rachel brought it to class to share with a friend.

Carr took the journal home and read through the private musings of a 14-year-old girl. Who knows what kind of lascivious pleasure he derived from perusing the private thoughts of a pubescent girl entering the hormone-induced beginnings of womanhood? The same thought apparently occurred to Rachel, who was more worried about some of the poems she had written. The journal contained a whole range of musings, some light and “fluffy”, others somewhat dark and disturbing. Whatever his own questionable personal motives, he apparently found this particular story cause enough to have her pulled out of class by an armed police officer the following day.

Rachel was summarily suspended until a hearing could be held by the School Board. At the hearing, testimony on her behalf included Rachel’s parents, Georgia’s poet laureate and the editor of an Atlanta literary magazine, as well as written testimony from authors and other literary professionals. All of this was to no avail, as the School Board expelled the honor student.

A quick search on Google for Rachel Boim pulls up dozens of articles regarding the story, but not one seems to explore the motivation of Travis Carr for confiscating the journal in the first place.

In the twisted world of government schools, the priority appears to be punishing students for reading and writing, rather than teaching them those skills. As a former college professor, I can honestly say that the short essay that Rachel wrote to the Atlanta Journal Constitution was far more coherent and grammatically correct than easily 80% of my college juniors and seniors. Without question this comes from the practice she got from writing in her journal (among other writings, of course).

Nevertheless, there has yet to be any uproar over Travis Carr’s fascist right to confiscate the journal in the first place. In the context of the classroom, certainly two girls sharing a diary moment would warrant a warning to put the journal away. If confiscation was necessary, why wasn’t the journal returned at the end of the class period? The end of the day? Why was it necessary to take the girl’s private journal home to read in its entirety?

The presumptuousness on the part of the teacher that such an invasion of personal privacy is couched in the belief that the students in government schools are owned by the schools. While it is true that the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional rights of citizens in their entirety do not extend to children, the impact of this behavior can be projected. A student who grows up expecting that no privacy or freedom is to be had cannot be expected to resist when government claims ownership over (as in the case of Terri Shiavo) an individual’s life and death.

Okay, so what? So Rachel Boim was expelled from school. So Terri Shiavo lives like a turnip on the taxpayer’s pocketbook. What does that have to do with me (I hear you say). Living in a country as a free person where one individual is perceived to be owned by government is like trying to swim in the non-peeing section of the pool: eventually you will be affected.

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