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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.


  1. krysVS says:

    I was prepared to come in here and put up my dukes to defend the poor, misunderstood christian kids, but those shirts are awful, misguided, ridiculous, antagonistic, and (perhaps worst of all) un-clever.
    I’m a Jesus fan, and that was not how he rolled. When people program their kids this way, it does nothing to advance any conversation and makes other, more reasonable believers seem backwards by extension. Thanks a lot, jerks.
    The same way that we wince at the way our grandparents discuss race/ethnicity, your children will be ashamed at your hateful behavior.

    Ruth, thanks for sharing this story and getting me riled up on a Tuesday morning. 😉

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I’m glad I could rile you up to start your day.

      It baffles me when people don’t see that today’s homophobia is yesterday’s racism and sexism.

  2. Grant Stedman says:

    Hey ya, Ruth!

    This comment was posted to my facebook page from a very good friend of mine from work. She took this straight out of the middle school handbook her daughter goes to. I think there may be some law codes that can fight the violent words on clothing.

    Here are some excerts from the Redwood Middle School Dress code: Attention to school clothing should always be given to neatness, cleanliness, appropriateness and safety. Dress, accessories and hairstyle should avoid extremes that disrupt the educational process by attracting undue individual or group attention and/or create an unsafe learning environment. Clothing also cannot have holes, slits or splits in any article. Pursuant to Education Code 48907 buttons, badges, and other insignia which express political or other constitutionally protected messages are acceptable. However, any clothing or accessory (including, but not limited to backpacks) that promotes any form of profanity, violence, drugs, alcohol, vandalism, weapons, tobacco, illegal activities, or harassment or degrading of individuals on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or that creates substantial disruption to the learning environment is unacceptable at Redwood Middle School at anytime.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing! I’m glad to see that some schools are striking the balance between protecting students’ rights of expression and protecting students against hate speech.

  3. Mike says:

    I reject your argument.

    “Sexual orientation is almost certainly unchosen, but the decision to incorporate a sexual desire into one’s identity, and then to act on it, is a decision. Maybe most people think it’s the right decision, the healthiest decision, but the point is that it’s a choice, and subject to moral reflection. A sexual desire is not its own justification.”

    It is the fault of the homosexual when he/she understands any disagreement with homosexual sex as a personal attack.

    The catholic church and other churches believe it perfectly possible for homosexual individuals to be members of their churches and be productive citizens. They just have to remain celibate (if they cannot develop any heterosexual desires at all), like a monk or a nun. While many bizarrely describe this as a cruel inhuman requirement, Jesus was celibate and very much human.

    In fact, the view that sex is necessarily fundamental to one’s happiness and identity is the root of many societal problems today.

    Disagreement with homosexual sex must be allowed.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I respect your right to decide what’s right for you concerning your sexual conduct. I believe that homosexuality is not a choice and that homosexuals and bisexuals should not have any more restraints on their sexual behavior than their heterosexual counterparts.