Protecting a student’s right to make anti-gay statements

Following up my previous posts on free speech, we have a case involving the ACLU and a student’s right to wear a T-shirt with an anti-gay message.

Anti-rainbow

The front of Seth Groody’s T-shirt.

Wolcott High School in Connecticut designated April 20th a Day of Silence in order to raise awareness of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. On that same day, junior Seth Groody wore to school a T-shirt depicting a rainbow with a slash through it – an anti-gay statement. School officials forced him to remove the T-shirt.

The ACLU has pointed out that this is unconstitutional, and they’ve asked school officials to guarantee that students’ rights to free speech are not infringed in the future.

“The First Amendment was written to protect unpopular speech, which is naturally the kind of speech that will always need protection,” said Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “The ACLU has fought hard for same-sex marriage and we couldn’t agree with Seth less on that issue, but he is absolutely correct about his right to express his opinion.

“The impulse to suppress ideas that we find unpleasant is antithetical to freedom and democracy. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio stood up in 2006 for the rights of students to wear T-shirts supporting same-sex marriage and the ACLU of Connecticut must stand up in 2012 for the rights of students to express the opposite sentiment.”

This is the right thing to do. I, too, am vehemently against anti-gay sentiment, but if people are to be free to express good ideas, then they must also be free to express bad.

The only exception I would make is the exception that US case law already makes – if speech becomes so frequent or disruptive that it infringes on the rights of others, then it becomes harassment, and it is no longer protected under the First Amendment. If a great number of students at Wolcott High came to school wearing anti-gay shirts, that would arguably create an oppressive atmosphere towards LGBT students, with negative consequences for their psychological wellbeing. Anti-gay bullying is a big issue in American schools these days, and it isn’t to be taken lightly. However, if only a handful of students are openly expressing anti-gay sentiments, then the answer is for students and teachers who disagree to raise their voices higherand to repudiate the idea that there is something wrong with being attracted to members of the same sex.

(via the Friendly Atheist)

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Filed under First Amendment, Free Speech, Government, Homosexuality, Human Rights

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