Precinct 333

Saturday, September 18, 2004

You Can't Say That At School!

As a teacher, I hate to hear about kids suing a school. But I've just got to back this young man. For the First Amendment to mean anything, people have to be able to peaceably dissent from and orthodoxy that the government wishes to impose.

Tyler "Chase" Harper had the audacity to dissent from the "Gay is OK" message put forth by his school. When the school sponsored a "Day of Silence" to protest the alleged harassment of homosexuals and others, Chase wore one which read "Homosexuality is shameful" and "Romans 1:27." When he wore it a second day, he was suspended.

"This particular phrase is harmful and offensive to people and shouldn't be permitted," school district attorney Jack Sleeth told U.S. District Judge John Houston.

Really, Mr. Sleeth? Haven't you read Tinker v. DesMoines, which holds that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door? DO you mean to say that religious speech and speech opposing homosexuality are not constitutionally protected? Or are you contending that Tinker, the landmark student's rights case that permitted students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, was wrongly decided? Or do you mean to say that the precedent only applies to those who espouse a liberal message?

ironically, Sleeth goes on to justify the suspension and ban on the grounds that the district has a goal of promoting, get this, "tolerance of all viewpoints." Well, Mr. Sleeth, why does the district refuse to promote the tolerance of Chase's viewpoint? It seems to me that they are suppressing a viewpoint they don't support, rather than tolerating it. And you can't claim it was causing disruptions in the school, because not one fight or disruption can be documented on the day the shirt was permitted. All you can point to is hurt feelings and people being offended.

As a public school teacher, I hope this bunch goes down hard, and that Tinker gets reaffirmed. Maybe we'll see an end to absurdities like the one at my school, which banned a t-shirt with a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster of Osama bin Laden, or one worn by a student who was a Civil War buff honoring Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Or the ones at other schools where kids are suspended for wearing Pepsi shirts on Coca Cola day, or a Green Bay Packers shirt on Minnesota Vikings day.


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