Public schools can bar clothing with slogans that are hurtful, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday in the case of a student who wore a T-shirt saying “Homosexuality is shameful.”
The 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals backed a San Diego-area high school’s argument that it was entitled to tell a student to remove a T-shirt with that message.
The officials were concerned the slogan could raise tension at the school, where there had been conflict between gay and straight students.
The student sued, claiming the school’s dress code violated his free speech, religious freedom and due process rights.
Writing for the panel’s majority, Judge Stephen Reinhardt affirmed a lower court’s decision against an injunction against the school and said schools may bar slogans believed to be hurtful.
Students should be ‘free from attacks’
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,” Reinhardt wrote.
“The demeaning of young gay and lesbian students in a school environment is detrimental not only to their psychological health and well-being, but also to their educational development,” Reinhardt added.
In his dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski said the majority would gag campus dissent to Poway High School’s policies.
“The types of speech that could be banned by the school authorities under the Poway High School hate policy are practically without limit. Any speech code that has at its heart avoiding offense to others gives anyone with a thin skin a heckler’s veto — something the Supreme Court has not approved in the past,” Kozinski wrote.
Reinhardt rejected this argument.
“Perhaps our dissenting colleague believes that one can condemn homosexuality without condemning homosexuals. If so, he is wrong. To say that homosexuality is shameful is to say, necessarily, that gays and lesbians are shameful,” Reinhardt.
“There are numerous locations and opportunities available to those who wish to advance such an argument. It is not necessary to do so by directly condemning, to their faces, young students trying to obtain a fair and full education in our public schools,” Reinhardt added.