A Lesson in T-Shirt Intolerance
- By Matt Sharp
- Posted Apr 24, 2012
- No Comments »
With final exams starting in just a few weeks, let’s do a quick pop quiz on tolerance for student religious expression at school.
Which of the following t-shirts was a student allowed to wear to school to voice his/her viewpoint on the issue of homosexuality?
A. A t-shirt with a rainbow fish symbol and the phrase “Jesus is not a homophobe.”
B. A t-shirt with the saying “Be Happy, Not Gay.”
C. A t-shirt with the saying “Homosexuality is Shameful.”
If you guessed “A” then give yourself a gold star.
On April 3rd, Maverick Couch, a student at Waynesville High School in Ohio, filed a lawsuit against his school district after his request to wear a t-shirt saying “Jesus is Not a Homophobe” was denied by the school principal. Maverick sought to wear the t-shirt to school for the national Day of Silence, an event sponsored by GLSEN to support its homosexual agenda in public schools.
Within days of filing the lawsuit, the school agreed to allow Maverick to wear the t-shirt on April 20th, the date scheduled for the national Day of Silence.
Under the First Amendment, Maverick has the right to wear the t-shirt (even if it is misleading) as long as it does not create a material and substantial disruption at school. So the school did the right thing by allowing him to wear it.
Unfortunately, Christians are far too often deprived of the same right to express their Biblically-based viewpoints opposing the homosexual agenda. Heidi Zemecnik, a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois was prohibited from wearing a t-shirt with the message “Be Happy, Not Gay” to school, and a school counselor went so far as to black out the message when Heidi attempted to wear it so that the t-shirt read simply “Be Happy.” Yet other students at Heidi’s school were allowed to wear t-shirts the day before showing support for homosexual behavior as part of the “Day of Silence.”
With ADF’s assistance, Heidi sued the school. But unlike Couch’s school, Heidi’s refused to allow her shirt. The school fought it all the way to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals where the Court issued an opinion requiring the school to allow t-shirts like Heidi’s to be worn. Sadly, Heidi had graduated by the time her right to express her beliefs was vindicated.
Things likewise didn’t turn out so well for Chase Harper, who attempted to wear a t-shirt stating “Homosexuality is Shameful” the day after his school held the national “Day of Silence.” Chase was removed from class and told to remove the message from his t-shirt. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school’s censorship of Chase’s shirt. While the Supreme Court vacated the controversial opinion, Chase also graduated before the case could be reheard, thus permanently depriving him of the right to express his religious viewpoint on homosexuality.
We are teaching our children a dangerous lesson from cases like this. When pro-homosexual speech is given favorable treatment, and Christian views on the same subject are silenced, it sends the message that Christian viewpoints are wrong and are not welcome at school.
But student expression ought to be respected by schools regardless of its viewpoint. And that applies especially to religious speech, which our Founding Fathers deemed so important as to warrant special protection in our First Amendment. Our schools are better places when a variety of viewpoints are welcome. Students must have the freedom to debate and discuss differing ideas and viewpoints, even on controversial topics. If our schools cannot teach students such a simple principle as freedom of speech for everyone, then it is indeed a dark day for our nation’s education system.
Author: Matt Sharp