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Teen T-shirts sing out against abortion

Rock for Life may see challenges over slogans in schools

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WASHINGTON — The music was angry and ragged, sounding something like a chainsaw gashing a concrete block — only with a beat that bounced the teens up and down.

But this was not the usual mosh scene. This was a Rock For Life concert.

"It seems too easy . . . unwanted baby, it could just be thrown away," chanted Mike Middleton of a Wisconsin band called Hangnail. "A life so helpless counted as useless, another victim of mankind. . . . Did you even have a name or could you've been like me the same? I was wondering, do they think of you or try to keep you from their minds."

Not far from the stage was a table lined with stacks of black sweatshirts and T-shirts that are guaranteed to stand out among the Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch clones in school hallways. The slogans are printed in large white letters and are easy to read, even from a distance.

Some people like that. Some people don't.

"ABORTION IS HOMICIDE," says one sweatshirt. "ABORTION IS MEAN," says another. On the back is a pledge that proclaims: "You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation." The Rock For Life logo is a cartoon image of an unborn child playing an electric guitar.

The American Life League reported selling 15,000 of the shirts at rallies last summer and at least another 500 during concerts supporting the annual March For Life on Tuesday, the 29th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision.

These shirts will be coming soon to a public school near you if Rock For Life has its way.

"People will probably think that we're weird or something, but we're used to that," said 16-year-old Katie Hammond of Frederick High School, Md. "Sometimes we end up in arguments at lunch about stuff like this. People keep saying, 'It's wrong to believe what you believe' and blah, blah, blah. Maybe it'll be OK."

Then again, there's always a chance someone will freak out and call a counselor. Rock For Life has received a dozen or more complaints about students being sent home for wearing the "ABORTION IS HOMICIDE" shirt. Few have dared to fight these bans. These are tense times on the free-speech front.

"I know some of the schools have a zero-tolerance policy on language about death, so people are saying that the word 'homicide' violates that," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. "But that just doesn't wash, since you have all kinds of kids walking the halls in T-shirts for rock groups like Slayer, Megadeath and who knows what all. There was even an anti-gun campaign a few years ago with the slogan, 'Stop the killing.' I didn't hear anything about schools banning those shirts. . . . So from my point of view, this isn't about the word 'homicide.' What this is about is the word 'abortion.' Then there is that dangerous word 'God.' "

In Malone, N.Y., a school attorney claimed the sweatshirt pledge proved that "the student's objective is to proselytize." But such a ban would appear to clash with 1999 Clinton White House guidelines that were backed by a broad coalition ranging from the National Association of Evangelicals to the American Civil Liberties Union. That letter said: "Schools may not single out religious attire in general, or attire of a particular religion, for prohibition or regulation."

Apparently, many Americans are tense and hypersensitive right now about anything that has to do with strong faith or claims of religious truth, said Erik Whittington of Rock For Life. Thus, some want to nip conflict in the bud, even if that means undercutting free speech.

"We had our largest cluster of complaints about the sweatshirts right after Sept. 11 — just a few days or a week after that," he said, moments before one of the Capitol Hill concerts. "There has to be a connection. . . . I think the logic goes like this: pro-life equals right wing, Christian, fanatic, the enemy. Some people think we're the American Taliban."

Terry Mattingly; www.tmatt.net, teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic College and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.