Shirts, courts, homosexuals, schools

Liam Julian

Here's the abridged backstory: In 2006, Heidi Zamecnik, then a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, arrived at school wearing a T-shirt that instructed readers to ?Be Happy, Not Gay.? The dean told Zamecnik to shed the shirt (and, presumably, to put on another one) or go home. The student declined. The dean called the pupil's mother, and the two adults determined the clothing's message would be acceptable were it revised to be more proactive?i.e., if it were changed to, ?Be Happy, Be Straight.? But post-phone-call, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, ?the dean instead had a female counselor cross the words ?Not Gay' off Zamecnik's shirt so it simply read ?Be Happy.'? Zamecnik was mad! And she sued. And Tuesday the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, noting in an opinion written by Judge Richard Posner that a ?school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.? Posner continued:

The school argued (and still argues) that banning ?Be Happy, Not Gay? was just a matter of protecting the ?rights? of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed. But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.

?Beliefs.? ?Way of life.? How about identity? The Wall Street Journal reports that ?Nate Kellum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys who represented the students in the suit," said, "In an environment that freely allows speech that promotes homosexual behavior, the school simply cannot shut out the opposing viewpoint.'? Kellum, echoing Posner, speaks of ?behavior.? But one assumes most homosexual students don't want their ?behavior? acknowledged; they simply want to be acknowledged and accepted for who they are. Again, it's about identity, not sex. Of course, lots of people (Posner, Kellum) think differently. And they can do that.

Posner's opinion shouldn't even be about "rights," though; it should be about maintaining an ordered, educational environment. But, whatever. This is the sort of mess produced when public-school pupils have?as many (or more)?"rights" in the classroom?as they have outside it.?A teenager can't sue his mother if she makes him cut his hair, change his shirt, or get rid of the nose ring. Should he be allowed to sue his principal over similarly trivial things?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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