Both these stories went directly into my file folder marked "extension." This is where I stuff clippings about perfectly reasonable social or legal principles that are carried way too far, resulting in essentially insane policies. When the ADA was debated a decade ago, nobody suggested that it might one day be used to force employers to accept disruptive and insubordinate workers or sales people who curse the customers. Discussion focused on people with severe and mostly visible disabilities. Almost no one thought that backers of the ADA would push to include neurosis, drug habits, bad backs or high blood pressure. And when school boards passed zero-tolerance policies on weapons in schools, nobody predicted that offenders would include tots with water pistols, rubber knives, key chain ornaments and chicken fingers.
Quiet overextension of accepted principles has become a standard political tactic. It can produce a lot of social change all at once, often without the bother of consulting the electorate. Take the concept of sexual harassment. What began in 1986 with a Supreme Court ruling in a case that involved repeated sexual assaults by a woman's boss established a legal doctrine now used to go after school teasing by first-graders and chuckling at the water cooler over naughty jokes on "Seinfeld."