Officials with a Wisconsin school district have decided not to punish students who appeared in a photograph that showed several dozen high school boys giving what appears to be a Nazi salute because doing so would violate their First Amendment rights, reports CBS News.
The controversial photograph, taken on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse, sparked international outrage after it surfaced in a now-deleted tweet this month with the caption: “We even got the black kid to throw it up.”
The Auschwitz Memorial said the images, which included nearly 60 students from Baraboo High School, showed the “danger of hateful ideology rising,” and there were calls for the students to be punished for making the gesture.
It is so hard to find words…
This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred. https://t.co/13AzZaMGJR
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 12, 2018
The State Journal reports that Baraboo Superintendent Lori Mueller said in a letter to parents Wednesday that officials cannot know the “intentions in the hearts” of those involved.
“We cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” she wrote Wednesday, in the letter obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”
Mueller said most of the district’s investigation into the images had been completed, but some “key details” remain unclear.
Mueller had described the student’s actions as “not reflective of the educational values” of the school district after the picture emerged, and said it would pursue “any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal.”
In a November 14 statement it said “We understand the moral responsibility we have to be relentless in our work to create a culture in which racism is not tolerated…. We are so very sorry that the actions of some of our students so understandably and deeply hurt people around the world.”
The photographer, Peter Gust, defended the students in an interview with a local TV station, saying the gestures are being taken out of context.
“I said, ‘OK boys, you’re going to say goodbye to your parents. So wave,'” Gust said. “For society to now turn it around and now blame these kids is absolutely wrong.”