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
"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
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
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.