updated 3/5/2009 2:46:43 PM ET 2009-03-05T19:46:43

An attorney for two gay students at a north Florida high school told a federal judge Thursday they should be allowed to form a campus club promoting tolerance toward gays, despite a school prohibition.

But a lawyer for the Nassau County School Board said the group's name, Gay-Straight Alliance, is against school policy.

Yulee High School students Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, are suing the school board to overturn its decision banning them from forming the club at school. Yulee is about 25 miles north of Jacksonville, near the Georgia state line.

U.S. District Judge Henry Adams Jr. said he would issue a ruling on a motion for a preliminary injunction "as soon as I can," but gave Nassau County three days to submit additional written arguments. The students want an injunction to allow them to meet until the case goes to trial.

ACLU Attorney Robert F. Rosenwald Jr. argued that Page and Brock had been the target of anti-gay epithets and threats of violence at school and wanted to start the Gay-Straight Alliance to open a discourse among students.

Attorney Frank Sheppard, who represents the school board, said the district's main complaint is the name of the group, saying it does not approve of groups dealing with sexual orientation and noted the school has an abstinence-based sex education curriculum.

"If they change the name and comply with Nassau County School Board policies they can meet," he said.

The judge questioned Sheppard over the school's objection to the name.

"A Gay-Straight Alliance, that covers everybody doesn't it?" Adams asked.

After the hearing, Page said the group doesn't want to change its name because it represents what the club is about.

"This school is ashamed of using the word 'gay' in this environment," she said.

School officials had no problem with the idea of tolerance and rejecting bullying, Sheppard said, but they believe the club will be disruptive.

Rosenwald noted that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meets on campus. He told the judge that an FCA booklet includes references to sexual issues, including a student pledge to remain sexually pure and an article about dealing with homosexuality in the locker room.

Sheppard said he was unaware of the document and Adams said he could have three days to respond to it.

Rosenwald asked for the injunction, noting that Brock, a junior, and Page, a freshman, might be out of school before the case is decided.

"These students are in a short window on this," he said.

The ACLU recently won a similar case in Okeechobee. A judge there ruled schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Rosenwald said the Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorneys fees in the case.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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