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November 29th, 2011:

First Amendment Shouldn’t Protect Homophobia in Schools

It’s distressing to hear that students are being permitted to wear t-shirts with homophobic messages on them at school. This issue has come up a few times in the past year. In one situation, judge said it was ok for a student to wear a shirt that said, “Be Happy, Not Gay” because a school didn’t have the right to prevent a student from expressing their beliefs. At another school, students were not disciplined when they came to school wearing shirts that said “Straight Pride” on the front and a verse from Leviticus on the back: “If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH.”

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Image by NIST2018 via Flickr

Now, I’m a huge supporter of the First Amendment. Tinker v. Des Moines School District says that your constitutional right to free speech doesn’t end when you enter the school property, and I think that’s true. It’s perfectly fine to have your beliefs, but there must be limitations on how you’re allowed to express them.

There are also needs to be a line drawn between Tinker and these anti-gay t-shirt cases. In Tinker, the students wore black armbands as a symbol that they were against the Vietnam War. They were expressing their political view. They weren’t discriminating against anyone. Their armbands probably didn’t create a hostile learning environment. A shirt that says all homosexuals should be killed does.

If a school permits students to wear “Gay Pride” shirts then students should be allowed to wear “Straight Pride” shirts. The students should have been disciplined because they wore shirts that called for killing of homosexuals! There wouldn’t have been any discussion if these students had shown up to school in shirts that promoted the KKK, said that women were the lesser sex, or displayed the Nazi flag. No one would have been allowed to wear any of these shirts because “it sparked a conversation.” Discipline would have been swift and automatic.

Too often, people are using the right to religious freedom to promote homophobia, and schools are accepting this crap argument. School administrators should not tolerate any type of discrimination on school grounds. They can respect that students have a right to their religious beliefs (even closed-minded beliefs) without giving them so much freedom of expression that they allow these bigoted students to interfere with other students’ ability to learn. There’s a huge difference between allowing a student to have their beliefs and putting limits on how they are allowed to express it in the classroom. It is unacceptable for schools to use religious freedom as an excuse for allowing LGBT students to be bullied in the classroom.