What is wrong with this picture?
So many things. The story:
SAN FRANCISCO – A suburban San Diego teenager who was barred from wearing a T-shirt with anti-gay rhetoric to class lost a bid to have his high school’s dress code suspended Thursday after a federal appeals court ruled the school could restrict what students wear to prevent disruptions.
The ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals addressed only the narrow issue of whether the dress code should be unenforced pending the outcome of the student’s lawsuit.
A majority of judges said, however, that Tyler Chase Harper was unlikely to prevail on claims that the Poway Unified School District violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion for keeping him out of class when he wore a shirt with the message “homosexuality is shameful.”
Tyler Chase Harper sued the Poway Unified School District in San Diego federal court after the principal at Poway High School refused to let the student attend class wearing a T-shirt scrawled with the message “homosexuality is shameful.”
Harper was a sophomore at Poway High in 2004 when he wore the T-shirt the day after a group called the Gay-Straight Alliance held a “Day of Silence” to protest intolerance of gays and lesbians. The year before, the campus was disrupted by protests and conflicts between students over the Day of Silence.
Ok, I understand (a little) why a school would take objection to a shirt that has the potential to stir up trouble (like a rebel flag shirt would at a school in South Carolina, for example). My problem with this is: if this is all about being concerned about “disruption” why hold “Day of Silence” at the school in the first place?
On Thursday, the three-judge appeals court panel said “the school is permitted to prohibit Harper’s conduct…if it can demonstrate that the restriction was necessary to prevent either the violation of the rights of other students or substantial disruption of school activities.”
Huh? What “other students” rights were “violated” here outside of Harpers’? Also, isn’t “Day of Silence” in and of itself a disruption? Yes, it is. So I guess that would mean that those who have approved and those who organized “Day of Silence” could have had their “conduct” prohibited, too?
The lone dissenter on the 9th Circus got it right:
Judge Alex Kozinski wrote a blistering dissent, arguing that the high school had in effect authorized a heated debate over sexual orientation when it allowed the “Day of Silence.”
“Harper’s T-shirt was not an out-of-the-blue affront to fellow students who were minding their own business,” Kozinski wrote. “Rather, Harper wore his T-shirt in response to the Day of Silence, a political activity that was sponsored or at the very least tolerated by school authorities.”
The school district attorney’s comment:
Jack Sleeth, a school district attorney, said that the 9th Circuit ruling supports the district’s prohibition against T-shirts with messages that are offensive to some.
“When it violates the rights of other[s], then it can be prohibited,” Sleeth said. “It is that simple of an issue.”
REALLY? Perhaps Mr. Sleeth will clarify at a later time exactly what “rights of others” he believes were violated. Is there a “right to not be offended” somewhere in the Constitution? Maybe I missed it.
The more I think of it, the more I believe that this wasn’t about “disruption” – it was about political correctness, pure and simple. And when it comes to PC, there’s not a court anywhere that issues more PC-type rulings than the 9th Circus.
Others blogging about this: Eugene Volokh, Stop The ACLU
Fri AM Update: The LA Times provides a more in depth look at the court ruling:
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 â€¦ as the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,” Reinhardt said.
Three things we ‘learn’ here from the 9th Circus ruling: 1) there is a “right” to learn in this country, 2) you have a “right” to be free from “psychological attacks” and 3) if you argue successfully that you felt psychologically and physically threatened by someone expressing an opposing opinion to yours, you can successfully convince a US court to infringe on that person’s freedom of speech rights while being perfectly free to exercise your own.
Again, I’d like to repeat my earlier claim that I could understand (a little) the school wanting to prevent “disruption” but if “disruption” were what this was about, the school wouldn’t allow “Day of Silence” in the first place because of the clear disruption it causes.
As a sidenote, when did public schools become the place to have days of recognition for sexual preferences? Is there a “right” somewhere in the Constitution for that, too?
(original posting at 12:03 AM)
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