May I have this dance, sweetheart? ACLU says no.

Every so often I have this odd fantasy: that I join the American Civil Liberties Union and its fight for free speech.

But then the ACLU does something utterly stupid, brutish, nasty and ridiculous.

The latest politically correct ACLU attack involves a time-honored American ritual, the father-daughter dance. I have sons, but you don't need to have a daughter to understand how a little girl would smile when her father takes her to the dance at school.

"My daughter is only 8," said a friend at work, "but someday she might ask me to one of those dances. And even though I can't dance, I'd go. I can't dance at all. But I wouldn't want to break her heart. I'd be there."


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We were standing outside Tribune Tower, and even though his daughter is still young, and even though he thinks he has two left feet on a dance floor, he could see into the years ahead, his daughter in middle school. And if he could see it, so can many of you.

The dad puts on a jacket or a suit. The little girl wears a dress. She sits in the front seat of the car. They walk together into the school gymnasium, which has been decorated with streamers, balloons and so on. She'll never be treated more courteously at a dance.

And that's how it's gone, in most every community, for years. Except that now in Rhode Island, in the town of Cranston, father-daughter school dances have been declared against the law.

The Cranston school district canceled father-daughter dances this year, as well as a mother-son baseball outing, after the ACLU got involved and argued that such rituals are nothing more than sex discrimination.

I know, it's positively idiotic and cruel to outlaw the father-daughter dance. But then, we're talking about a bunch of lawyers.

"The school district recognized that in the 21st century, public schools have no business fostering the notion that girls prefer to go to formal dances while boys prefer baseball games," the ACLU said in a statement released this week. "This type of gender stereotyping only perpetuates outdated notions of 'girl' and 'boy' activities and is contrary to federal law."

While insisting that it was championing neutrality, the ACLU went on to bring up the ancient "Ozzie and Harriet" feminist rhetorical artillery.

"The time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella — not even in Cranston. In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday."

Shooter, the reporter (and new mom) who helps with the column, had a puzzled look on her face.

"What's Ozzie and Harriet?"

Exactly.

The father-daughter dance issue started a few months ago, when a single mother complained about the dance because the father of her little girl was not in the picture. The ACLU then complained to the school. And the school officials, with ACLU lawyers breathing upon them, banned the dances.

Cranston schools Superintendent Judith Lundsten told school groups that "gender-specific events" were in violation of Rhode Island anti-discrimination law, according to The Associated Press. "I acknowledge that many of these events have long traditions, and for many parents, these type of gender-based events are not an issue," Lundsten said. "However, this is a public school system, and under no circumstances should we be isolating any child from full participation in school activities and events based on gender."

Enter Sean Gately, a Republican candidate for the state Senate in Cranston, who found out about the anti-dad ban and decided to make an issue of it. He wants to change the state law — and that foolish school ban — so dads can take their daughters to a dance.

"Some of the most cherished memories I have are of pinning the corsage on my daughter's lapel or putting it on her wrist," Gately told us Wednesday. "For some fathers, the next time we get to dance with our daughter is on her wedding day. As a father who's experienced this, I don't want any other father to be denied the same pleasure."

Ozzie and Harriet are ancient history. They've been forgotten by most Americans. They've been forgotten as the stars of an excruciatingly boring black-and-white TV show. And now they're being forgotten as a tired and creaky feminist rhetorical device. But as Ozzie and Harriet happily recede from common memory, something else disappears too.

Common sense.

Remember common sense?

It was put to death by bloodless ACLU lawyers.

If the complaining single mom had common sense, then she could have found a man, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, somebody, to take the daughter. Or she could have taken her daughter herself. Who would have complained? No one.

If the school district had common sense, it would have protected the tradition and the dads and the daughters who weren't discriminating against anyone by dancing.

I'm just guessing, but there probably would have been other moms there as well. Or a grandpa or some other male family member. But now none of those people can take the little girl to the father-daughter dance because there isn't one.

"A lot of zealots think that being inclusive means excluding everyone," Gately said. "And that's not right."

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

 

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