"Homosexuality is Shameful" T-shirt in School
The LA Times has an article about a high school sophomore who wore a T-shirt the day after the school's 2004 Day of Silence which read, "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned" on the front, and "Homosexuality is Shameful" on the back. He was kept in a conference room "doing homework" for the day when he insisted on wearing the shirt which the school considered inappropriate.
The student is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund in a law suit claiming his right to free speech had been violated. The ADF represents Christians who feel that their rights to express their religious beliefs about homosexuality are being unfairly repressed in schools, colleges and the workplace.
The US Appellate Court has not made its final ruling, but did rule that the student can't wear the shirt for the time being, while the case is pending. The LA Times article gives the details.
This stimulated quite a discussion on free speech versus the right of gay kids not to be harassed at school over at the ex-gay watch web blog. I added this comment about public schools and free speech:
There's a major distinction between public schools and the public square.
The state requires children to leave the safety of their homes and the guardianship of their parents to attend school. In return, the teachers and school administrators assume a responsibility in loco parentus for the health and welfare of these children beyond just the formal requirement of providing them with an education.
If a child becomes ill, for example, the school informs the parent, of course, but must see that the child gets emergency treatment, if required, until the parent gets there.
From the LA Times article, "Reinhardt cited a study showing that among teenage victims of anti-gay discrimination, 75% experienced a decline in academic performance, 39% had truancy problems and 28% dropped out of school."
Children are more sensitive and vulnerable to criticism than we would expect adults to be. Protecting children from physical harm alone is not sufficient. As this report shows, psychological harm can be devastating. Gay teens have higher rates of suicide and other psychological difficulties. Fortunately, these rates have subsided since the Safe Schools and anti-bullying programs were initiated in the mid 1990's.
A parent can protect a child from the harm our local street preacher holding a "homosexuality is shameful" sign might do by avoiding the corner of Clinton and McClain or by immediately reassuring the child to the contrary. The school performs this "parent" function by not allowing a "homosexuality is shameful" T-shirt in a place where attendance is mandatory.
Judge Reinhardt made it clear that this restriction to free speech would not apply to colleges where the students have the status of adults who can fend for themselves. In high schools and elementary schools, however, the teachers and school administrators must take on the role of the parent and protect these vulnerable children from anti-gay and other harassment.