Judge Upholds Ban On Marching Band's Instrumental 'White Rabbit'

Denies ACLU motion to allow St. Louis high-school group to play Jefferson Airplane acid-rock hit.

It looks like the Fort Zumwalt North High School band will have to do without its

instrumental version of Jefferson Airplane's acid-rock classic "White Rabbit," for the time

being at least.

A federal district-court judge in St. Louis denied a motion Friday (Oct. 23) that would

have permitted the marching band at Fort Zumwalt, in O'Fallon, Mo., the right to play a

previously banned, all-music segment of the '60s psychedelic act's hit

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Jefferson_Airplane/White_Rabbit.ram">"White

Rabbit" (RealAudio excerpt).

"We're disappointed that the judge didn't find grounds to relieve these students, so they

could play the song they practiced for thousands of hours this summer in the

competition," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the Eastern Missouri chapter of

the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the motion on behalf of parents of

marching-band members.

Judge Rodney Sipple denied the request for a temporary restraining-order. The request

followed an order handed down by Schools Superintendent Bernard DuBray that the

school's Panther Pride Marching Band cut a two-minute instrumental segment of its rock

routine that featured -- among other classic cuts from the '60s and '70s -- the tell-tale

drum-intro to "White Rabbit."

Tom Tueth, attorney for Fort Zumwalt School District, represented DuBray in court Friday

and praised the judge's decision in denying the motion.

"I think it was the correct decision," Tueth said. "School officials ought to be able to make

those decisions. The plaintiffs wanted to leave it up to students. I don't think, with respect

to school activity, students have that right."

The lyrics of "White Rabbit" -- partially inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic novel "Alice in

Wonderland" -- include apparent references to drugs and their disorienting effects. The

references are couched in fanciful lines such as "One pill makes you larger/ And one pill

makes you small/ And the ones that mother gives you/ Don't do anything at all." Another

lyric says, "And you've just had some kind of mushroom/ And your mind is moving low."

The ACLU, which is representing the 16 parents who filed suit, said that the plaintiffs

sought to have the instrumental segment reinstated in time to play the piece at a football

game Friday night and at a marching-band competition Saturday (Oct. 24) in Quincy, Ill.

"I think the superintendent engaged in content-based censorship. He didn't have rational

reason for censoring the music," Jacobs said. "It wasn't the song he censored. It was the

music. They're not singing the song, so he violated their right to artistic expression."

DuBray said he banned the song after receiving complaints from a handful of parents.

He defended his decision to demand that "White Rabbit" be removed from the routine on

the grounds that the lyrics are offensive, despite the fact that the version the band is

doing is entirely instrumental.

"They were not singing the lyrics, but very many people identify with that song as an

anthem for drug culture," insisted DuBray, 51, who said he could not recall being a fan of

Jefferson Airplane in their heyday. "My opinion is that song is associated with that drug

message."

Band director Rob Babel, an assistant band-director for two years before assuming the

head role this year, acknowledged that he was taken off-guard by DuBray's decision to

have the segment of music removed.

"It's something I chose based on the instrumental arrangement I heard on a demo tape. It

fit well with the '60s theme for our marching show," the 28-year-old Babel said,

explaining that the marching band has included songs from such psychedelic-era

rock-bands as the Moody Blues and Yes in this year's 10-minute routine.

"I somewhat expected that the restraining order would be denied," Deanna Reinwald, the

mother of a bandmember, wrote in an e-mail. "What we all must keep in mind is that this

is not about playing 'White Rabbit.' ... This is a First Amendment-rights issue ... and while

it is not life-threatening, it is freedom-threatening ... While I depend on the school district

to educate my children, I do not expect them to infringe on my children's civil rights."

Among DuBray's supporters is Wiley Drake, state director for the California chapter of the

American Family Association, a conservative organization dedicated to preserving what

it terms "traditional family-values."

He praised DuBray's decision. In fact, Drake went so far as to liken including the

instrumental version of "White Rabbit" in a school marching-band routine to yelling "Fire!"

in a crowded theater.

"Plenty of people are saying school bands can't play Christian songs in schools because

that's promoting Christianity," Drake said. "Jefferson Airplane and that culture that they

came out of is religious as any Christian has ever been. It's a religion of Satanism.

"I think what [DuBray] has done is admirable. I think he's doing his job, to protect children

from a religious intrusion into a government facility."

Jacobs said the attorneys from both sides will meet Wednesday to determine any

additional action to be taken in the case.