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Old 04-21-2006, 02:17 PM   #1
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Court Rules Against Gay-Bashing T-Shirts

This story fits Irvin's thread from last week (i.e. when should freedom of religion or freedom of speech be checked, if ever)...also topical in light of recent Muhammad cartoons' controversy:


http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la...a-story-footer

Court Rules Against Gay-Bashing T-Shirts
By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer


Schools in the western United States can forbid a high school student from wearing a T-shirt that denigrates gay and lesbian students, a sharply divided federals appeals court in San Francisco ruled today.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that a T-shirt that proclaimed "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned'' on the front and "Homosexuality Is Shameful'' on the back was "injurious to gay and lesbian students and interfered with their right to learn.'' The court said that the shirt can be barred on a public high school campus without violating the 1st Amendment.

"We conclude that'' Poway High School student Tyler Harper's wearing of his T-shirt " 'collides with the rights of other students' in the most fundamental way,'' wrote 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, quoting a passage from Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of students.

"Public school students who may be injured by verbal assaults on the basis of a core identifying characteristic such as race, religion, or sexual orientation have a right to be free from such attacks while on school campuses. As Tinker clearly states, students have the right to 'be secure and to be let alone,' '' Reinhardt said.

"Being secure involves not only the freedom from physical assaults but from psychological attacks that cause young people to question their self-worth and their rightful place in society. The 'right to be let alone' has been recognized by the Supreme Court … as the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,'' Reinhardt said.

Judge Alex Kozinski issued a strong dissent.

"While I find this a difficult and troubling case,'' the Poway Unified School District has "offered no lawful justification for banning Harper's T-shirt.''

There was no evidence that gay students were harmed by derogatory messages of the type conveyed on Harper's T-shirt, Kozinski said.

Moreover, Kozinski said there was no indication that a discussion Harper had with other students about the T-shirt "turned violent or disrupted school activities.''

In fact, Kozinski said, "while words were exchanged, the students managed the situation well and without intervention from the school authorities. No doubt, everyone learned an important civics lesson about dealing with others who hold sharply divergent views.''

Today's ruling comes amid a growing campaign across the country to compel public schools, state universities and private companies to annul policies protecting gays and lesbians from harassment. Plaintiffs in several lawsuits are seeking to knock out tolerance programs on the grounds that they violate religious beliefs that oppose homosexuality.

Legal experts, such as UCLA constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh, said the issue eventually would reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit decision stemmed from an incident in April 2004 when Harper, a Poway High School sophomore, wore the T-shirt to protest a Day of Silence at the school that was intended, in the words of a school official, to "teach tolerance of others, particularly those of a different sexual orientation.''

A teacher at the school told Harper that he believed the shirt was "inflammatory, violated the school's dress code" and "created a negative and hostile working environment for others.''

When Harper refused to remove the shirt that morning and asked to speak to a school administrator, the teacher gave him a dress code violation card. After meeting with Harper, school principal Scott Fisher said he could not wear the shirt on campus, but declined to suspend him as Harper requested. Rather, Fisher required Harper to stay in the school's front office the remainder of day. He was not subjected to any discipline beyond that.

About six weeks later, Harper, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal organization that says it was founded to "aggressively defend religious liberties,'' sued the school district, contending that both his right to free speech and freedom of religion had been violated. Harper asserted that his wearing of the T-shirt was "motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs'' regarding homosexuality and that the school punished him for expressing them. He also contended that the school had attempted to change his religious views.

U.S. District Judge John Houston in San Diego ruled that Harper was not entitled to a preliminary injunction barring the district from enforcing its dress code. The 9th Circuit majority upheld Houston and rejected all of Harper's legal arguments.

At this stage, the 9th Circuit was reviewing Houston's ruling on the preliminary injunction. He is still considering the underlying merits of the case. However, today's ruling will shape the rest of the case in a profound way.

Both Reinhardt and Judge Sidney Thomas, who joined the majority opinion, are strong supporters of the 1st Amendment. Their opinion emphasized that it was limited to high schools and elementary schools, saying such speech would be permissible on a college campus.

The majority cautioned that "it is essential that students have the opportunity to engage in full and open political expression,'' and that "limitations on student speech must be narrow…. Accordingly, we limit our holding to instances of derogatory and injurious remarks directed at students' minority status such as race, religion and sexual orientation.''
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Old 04-21-2006, 03:01 PM   #2
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very interesting.

i wasn't out in high school. i was aware, yet unaware. but if i had to sit behind a student wearing a t-shirt that said "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned," i would have found this every bit as offensive and unsettling and hostile and provocative as a shirt that said "Jews Killed Christ Dead."

[q]About six weeks later, Harper, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal organization that says it was founded to "aggressively defend religious liberties,'' sued the school district, contending that both his right to free speech and freedom of religion had been violated. Harper asserted that his wearing of the T-shirt was "motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs'' regarding homosexuality and that the school punished him for expressing them. He also contended that the school had attempted to change his religious views.[/q]


to me, this is the real slippery slope. what other behavior can we justify under the cloak of "expressing my religious beliefs"?
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Old 04-21-2006, 05:30 PM   #3
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Don't most schools ban students from wearing T-shirts with obscenties on them? It seems to me the T-shirt this kid was wearing would be a lot more disruptive than that, especially considering most kids these days have heard every swear word imaginable long before they reach high school. I can certainly see how a gay student would feel extremely comfortable and unable to concentrate if they were sitting behind someone wearing a shirt saying God hates them.
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Old 04-21-2006, 05:32 PM   #4
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Gee I wonder if the same people who claim being able to wear that shirt as "religious freedom" would defend a student who wore a shirt that was blatantly offensive to chrisitians?
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Old 04-21-2006, 07:05 PM   #5
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I'm glad the t-shirts got banned. I don't think that would be conducive to a positive learning environment. I normally come down on the side of freedom of speech, but I don't think gay-bashing is free speech.
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Old 04-21-2006, 08:00 PM   #6
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If you can ban one anti-(insert group here) T-Shirt then whats to stop bans on anti-Christian T-Shirts, anti-Muslim T-Shirts or anti-Atheist T-Shirts? How about anti-Bush T-Shirts?
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Old 04-21-2006, 08:05 PM   #7
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High schools typically have a limited freedom of speech. To my knowledge, there is no clear test to determine acceptable/unacceptable based on content.
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Old 04-21-2006, 09:25 PM   #8
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The Courts have almost consistently allowed schools to censor shirts that may cause the educational process disruption.

If I can find my ed law information....I think it is in my school office....There are numerous examples where students feel the freedom of speech allows them to make bold statements, when in fact, it doesn't.

The same would go for the Bush shirt. If the school administration felt it interefered with what was happening in the building, it would be banned.

If memory serves me correctly there was a court ruling on a Bush shirt within the last few years.

Back in my day, there were court cases involving Coed naked (Insert sport here) shirts.
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Old 04-21-2006, 09:37 PM   #9
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I think there's a big line between wearing t-shirts that speak out against a policy, administration, war, etc, and a group of people for who they are.

Religion, policies, administrations are all choices and things that can be changed .

But speaking out against a group for being black, gay, or a dwarf is just hate...
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Old 04-21-2006, 09:48 PM   #10
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So?
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Old 04-21-2006, 11:04 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
So?
There are lines of freedom when on a high school campus. And I think making the comparison of anti-war, Bush, etc t-shirts and this one are ridiculous.
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Old 04-21-2006, 11:20 PM   #12
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I was thinking more along the lines of anti-Religion T-Shirts, since this opposition to homosexuality is at least partly religious belief.
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Old 04-21-2006, 11:27 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
I was thinking more along the lines of anti-Religion T-Shirts, since this opposition to homosexuality is at least partly religious belief.
Same goes for anti-religion shirts, for religion is still a choice, and there's room for debate.
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Old 04-21-2006, 11:28 PM   #14
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But if you were a believer who accepted Jesus and considered homosexuality to be a choice then how is it different?
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Old 04-21-2006, 11:51 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
and considered homosexuality to be a choice then how is it different?
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