"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with Liberty and Justice for all. (Unless it might offend somebody.)"

Last Thursday a three-judge panel of the famously liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that administrators at Live Oak High School in the town of Morgan Hill, south of San Francisco, acted properly when five students wearing T-shirts that displayed the U.S. flag were ordered to take them off, wear them inside out, or go home.

The incident occurred nearly four years ago, on "Cinco de Mayo," a holiday celebrated in Mexico in observance of a 19th century victory over an occupying French army. That it took so long for this case to be heard on appeal says something about how overworked the federal court system is. Or, more likely, how inefficiently it performs its stated duty.

Lawyers representing students offended by the school's action want a hearing before the entire 11-member Court. If the panel's ruling is upheld, they plan to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One of the lawyers in the case, William Becker, said, "It's pretty incredible that the First Amendment rights of students to express their patriotic views has to take the backseat to the rights of students who want to celebrate another nation."

The student body at Live Oak High School is reportedly about 40 percent Hispanic. School administrators said there had been near altercations between rival gangs and that to forestall possible violence it was considered necessary not to offend Hispanic students by displaying the U.S. flag on Cinco de Mayo.

Judge Margaret McKeown, a member of the 9th Circuit panel, wrote that "given the history of prior events at the school, including an altercation on campus, it was reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real."

It apparently didn't occur to school officials or the 9th Circuit that in the face of a "potentially violent disturbance" less radical measures might have been taken to forestall it, rather than the absurdity of forbidding display of the U.S. flag at an American school on a Mexican holiday.

Was there no authority the school could have appealed to? No extra security available to prevent the outbreak of a "potentially violent disturbance"?

For now, the law has come down on the side of those who would answer "no" to the foregoing.

But as Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble said, "If the law supposes that, the law is a ass - a idiot."

As, unfortunately, it frequently is in the increasingly supine bureaucracies running, into the ground, the nation's schools and courts.