American high schools have been told by an appeal court that they can ban students from wearing t-shirts that can be hurtful to fellow students after a San Diego school banned a pupil from wearing a t-shirt proclaiming that “homosexuality is shameful.”
Teenager Tyler Harper student sued Poway High School, claiming that banning him from wearing the t-shirt violated his free speech, religious freedom and due process rights. The back of Mr Harper’s shirt read “Homosexuality is shameful,” with a biblical citation; the front read, “Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned.”
In a majority decision by the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it was found that schools were entitled to ban clothing that they considered to be hurtful.
Delivering the written verdict, Judge Stephen Reinhard said: “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.
“The demeaning of young gay and lesbian students in a school environment is detrimental not only to their psychological health and well-being, but also to their educational development.”
One member of the 3 strong appeal panel, Judge Alex Kozinski disagreed saying: “The types of speech that could be banned by the school authorities under the Poway High School hate policy are practically without limit. Any speech code that has at its heart avoiding offence to others gives anyone with a thin skin a heckler’s veto – something the Supreme Court has not approved in the past.”
Rejecting the argument Mr Reinhardt said: “Perhaps our dissenting colleague believes that one can condemn homosexuality without condemning homosexuals. If so, he is wrong. To say that homosexuality is shameful is to say, necessarily, that gays and lesbians are shameful.
“There are numerous locations and opportunities available to those who wish to advance such an argument. It is not necessary to do so by directly condemning, to their faces, young students trying to obtain a fair and full education in our public schools.”
A sensible decision has been reached by the court in this instance. If it is wrong for students to wear t-shirts that say “being black is shameful” then it must be similarly wrong for students to wear a t-shirt that casts shame on gay students.
Access to a safe educational environment, free from homophobia must be an essential human right that all students are entitled to.