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April 21, 2006

T-Shirt Ruling Disturbing

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a California student the right to wear a t-shirt to school that says the following:

"Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned'' (on the front) and "Homosexuality Is Shameful'' (on the back)

The ruling is as follows:

"We conclude that'' Poway High School student Tyler Harper's wearing of his T-shirt " 'collides with the rights of other students' in the most fundamental way,'' wrote 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, quoting a passage from Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of students.

"Public school 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. As Tinker clearly states, students have the right to 'be secure and to be let alone,' '' Reinhardt said.

"Being secure involves not only the freedom from physical assaults but from psychological attacks that cause young people to question their self-worth and their rightful place in society. The 'right to be let alone' has been recognized by the Supreme Court … as the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,'' Reinhardt said.

In other words, certain groups of people are being told that they are guaranteed the right not to have their feelings hurt.

Isn't that what this is all about?

One caveat: I believe that schools have the right to enforce dress codes. However, if they are going to enforce it against one group, they should be even-handed. Giving preference to one group over another isn't they way to go about it.

Here's a scenario: Anti-Bush t-shirts can be seen just about anywhere in this country. If President Bush took it into his head to sue the wearers and/or the manufacturers of such shirts because it was a "psychological attack that caused him to question his self-worth in our society," the suit would be tossed out faster than yesterday's newspaper. And I would agree: freedom of speech should not be trumped by hurt feelings. (In any case, the president has more to worry about than malicious malcontents wearing obnoxious t-shirts.)

That's not to say that a t-shirt saying "this (insert person/group) must die" or other such violent vitriol should be tolerated. It's one thing to criticize. It's another thing to threaten violence. This is where any civilized society should draw the line.

It's also not to say that people shouldn't think twice about what message they choose to broadcast to the general public. I don't think it's a good thing to go out of your way to offend someone else...but to demand such compliance is another matter entirely. Especially when, as an example, the student in question was offended by pro-gay issues being openly discussed at his school.

What about his being offended? What about his rightful place in society? What about his religious beliefs, which are what prompted him to wear the shirt? Are they not worth defending? No one seems to worry about the feelings of a Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin.

And therein lies the problem. By elevating the status of one special interest group over another, we are giving lie to the very foundations our country was built on. The First Amendment rights of a student who believes homosexuality to be sinful have been trampled in an effort to keep homosexual students from getting their feelings hurt.

No matter who you are or what you do, not everyone is going to like you and/or agree with your actions. This is a lesson that everyone needs to learn at an early age. By banning certain t-shirts at school, certain students are being told that their feelings are more important than someone else's rights.

That is an extremely disturbing trend.

hat tip: Memeorandum

Other views: Betsy's Page, Blue Crab Boulevard, Orrin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy

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Posted by Pam Meister at 09:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Double Standards
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