A few weeks ago, a 13-year-old girl was sentenced to two days of detention. Not for violent behavior, stealing or cheating, but for ... hugging two friends while going home from school. A few days later, in another city, two teenagers were expelled from school. Not for punching a teacher or destroying school property or starting a fight. No, they were expelled for ... kissing each other in a school bus! Sounds like another sad example of brutal repression by some fanatic religious police in some retarded Middle-Eastern theocracy? Not exactly. Embarrassingly, these events took place in a country that supposedly values freedom and human rights, the United States of America. But the most bizarre is that the sentences were not overturned and the school officials who gave the sentences were not fired and are still holding their jobs.
As strange as it seems (apparently not to the American public, but certainly to most people in other countries), it appears that many schools in the US really have rules banning public displays of affection or even any kind of physical contact between students in some cases. The student handbook of Mascoutah Middle School (Illinois), in which the hugging incident took place, actually says: “Displays of affection should not occur on the school campus at any time. It is in poor taste, reflects poor judgment, and brings discredit to the school and to the persons involved.”
One might wonder why should someone's taste have anything to do with the rules governing students' behaviors in schools. Even if that person's taste reflected the taste of a majority of people in the area, why would it make it more legitimate? A basic principle in civilized societies is that personal tastes can not be forced onto other people, no matter what percentage of the population happens to share them. What need to be enforced are human rights. Therefore, school officials need to make sure students are protected from harassment, bullying, or any form of violence. But prohibiting behaviors promoting or displaying love, friendship and joy under the pretense that it offends some people's taste is not only ridiculous, it is a total disrespect for human rights. In addition, are these people’s tastes their own taste or the one imposed on them by their educators, especially their religious educators?
An important feature of enlightened societies is that public policies should not be guided by political or religious ideology, but rather by scientific and medical evidence. Interestingly, numerous studies have shown the importance of touching for human health and well-being, from Dr Ashley Montagu's book “Touching: the human significance of the skin” three decades ago to the more recent research by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, which have amply demonstrated the benefits of touching on child development, attentiveness, mental balance, stress relief and immune function. Human beings need to touch and be touched as much as they need to communicate verbally. It's a biological reality, and a lack of physical interaction can have dramatic consequences such as cognitive impairment, poor social skills, depression and violent behavior. It is therefore not surprising to notice that virtually all violent criminals have a history of affective deprivation. Imagine how many tragedies could be prevented if disturbed individuals had more opportunities to hold someone's hand or to receive a hug or a smile...
School policies banning displays of affection are not only unfair, they actually harm society and should be fought against by all freedom-loving and peace-loving citizens. Public displays of affection should not only be tolerated, but actively encouraged in order to improve people's health, mental balance and general well-being and thus social harmony and peace. The number of people who feel offended by public displays of affection while being totally indifferent to public displays of hatred, violence, destruction and killing they watch every day on TV is a sad measure of how much remains to be done if we wish to transform the current culture of fear and competition into a culture of caring and benevolence.
Raelians organized free hugs regularly to explain to people in the streets the importance of hugging. US Raelians are now planning a hugathon in support of the punished children ... stay tune