Democracy Gives Even the Devil His Due : Imp Prevails in Mascot Election, but the Burning Issue on Campus Still Isn't Resolved

Mission Viejo High School students received a lesson in democracy last week outside the classroom. To some, the issue may not have seemed worth the time, but it did show the ability of unlikely and seemingly trivial issues to divide a community.

Fundamentalist Christians pressured the school into dropping its devil mascot seven years ago. Last year, students voted to keep the nickname "Diablos"--Spanish for "devils"--but picked a bulldog as mascot. That proved unpopular.

So another election was ordered, with students allowed to choose from five logos, including a baby devil with a silly smile. Supporters of the devil mascot quickly complained that picking that particular depiction rigged the balloting against their candidate.

To make sure there was no hanky-panky at the ballot box, though, the League of Women Voters was called in. A dozen league volunteers checked student identifications, counted the votes and announced the winner. It was all reminiscent of American volunteers who periodically fly off to Third World countries to ensure the honesty of balloting.

Mission Viejo High is part of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, whose trustees last spring bowed to pressure from fundamentalist Christians and canceled a state-funded program that offered alcohol and drug counseling because it also offered counseling on family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. That decision cost the district money, though a compromise approved this month will reinstate the program.

The mascot controversy indirectly led a football coach to quit and prompted some parents to file a lawsuit. The simpering devil wound up winning the election overwhelmingly. If this was a tempest in a teapot, at least the district was able to use the election to try in some small but instructive way to let student democracy prevail over pressure politics.

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