Tuesday, January 05, 2016

What's Appropriate On A T-Shirt At School

Will there ever be a good, legal answer to the question: What's acceptable on a t-shirt at school, and what's not?
A principal at a Tennessee high school told a student in front of her peers that her shirt reading “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It” was not allowed.

Nor was “any other shirt referencing LGBT rights,” because such messages are “sexual,” according to a federal judge’s ruling last week that approved an injunction against the school’s enforcement of the ban.

Richland High School’s stated rationale for the ban was to protect Rebecca Young and other students wearing such shirts from “bullying or harassment” by their peers, though only her principal, Micah Landers, and Giles County director of schools, Phillip Wright, made a commotion over it.

Judge Kevin Sharp was surprised this case landed on his desk: “The legal ground covering such issues is so well-trod that the Court finds itself surprised at the need to journey down this path.” (Indeed, the school didn’t bother responding to the lawsuit.)

The Tinker standard from the Supreme Court doesn’t allow schools to invent a “disruption” out of thin air to justify a suppression, particularly when there’s no evidence that the school is also barring anti-LGBT messages on shirts, Sharp ruled.

Yet schools have done exactly that for t-shirt speech that is currently out of favor – Confederate flags and anti-LGBT messages – and courts have upheld those bans, as Frank LoMonte of the Student Press Law Center notes in a contextual analysis of Young v. Giles...

The lesson to students whose views have fallen out of favor with mainstream culture is clear: Silence yourself or you will be punished and courts will uphold discrimination against you, while your opposing peers can spread their message all they want.
How soon will we see a complaint against someone wearing a pro-bacon t-shirt? You think I'm kidding, but I'm I'm just prescient.

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