Tyler Chase Harper Finally Loses Anti-Gay T-Shirt Lawsuit


This is a case that has been ongoing since Fall 2004. In 2004, Harper wore a T-shirt to school which said “Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned” on the front and “Homosexuality Is Shameful” on the back, to protest the school’s “Day of Silence”, a day in which students take a vow of silence to make a statement about tolerance of gays and lesbians.

The school principal told Harper he couldn’t wear the shirt to school. Harper claimed the school’s policy violated his rights to freedom of speech and religion, and the case was picked up by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defense Fund and has been climbing up through the court system ever since.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to suspend the dress code of the school which Harper had challenged:

“In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with a federal judge that Harper lost his ability to challenge the policy when he graduated last year. Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the policy to remain in effect pending the outcome of the lawsuit and sharply criticized the student’s challenge. The appellate judges said the T-shirt was ‘injurious to gay and lesbian students’ and ‘collides with the rights of other students in the most fundamental way.’ The Supreme Court ruling Monday also set aside the appellate ruling. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented.”

The case may not be completely closed however. U.S. District Judge John Houston is still considering the matter on behalf of Harper’s younger sister, Kelsie, who is still enrolled at the school. And the Supreme Court’s setting aside of the appellate ruling suggests they don’t necessarily agree with the philosophy behind it.

Top court rejects anti-gay challenge to school dress code [ap]

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Tyler Chase Harper and his Anti-Gay Shirt are Back [tr]
Fashion Statement [tr]


  1. Colby says

    The AP headline “Top court rejects anti-gay challenge to school dress code” [ap] is a little misleading. I haven’t read the opinion but from what I’ve read about it, it was thrown out on procedural grounds (the plaintiff has graduated from high school and therefore has no injury from the policy)- which means the Supreme Court didn’t even consider the merits of whether the school’s policy was valid or not.
    In other words, it’s not really a win for us.

  2. mark m says

    Here’s some irony…

    God also “condemns” wearing blended fibers, so I wonder if Tyler Chase Harper’s (is there a more Arian name than that?)T-shirt was 100% cotton. If it was a polyester blend, or if any clothes in Harper’s closet are, for that matter, then he is embracing what God has condemned and should be ashamed.

    Of course if you point that out to a mouth breather like Harper, you’ll only get… well, more mouth breathing.

  3. Paul S says

    Colby’s right. Tyler’s not lost except on a technicality, which precluded SCOTUS from addressing the merits of the case, but the Court of Appeals opinion was vacated, which is not exactly a vote of confidence in it.

    Incidentally, I’m not at all sure the Court of Appeals’ opinion is so great anyway. I mean … Tyler’s obviously a screwed up and silly young man, but if he WANTS to go round with his homophobic crap on his chest, shouldn’t we let him, and call him out on it. There are TONS of better ways to address that kind of issue than making him take his shirt off, particularly because that’s probably exactly what he hoped for.

  4. Nathan says

    Tyler Harper, the Hitler Youth poster boy, should NOT be allowed to wear his T-shirt, because, as the Supreme Court noted, it is inflamatory to gay and lesbian students. Imagine how it would feel… being a student in Tyler’s school, and seeing that “Angie Dickenson look-alike” strutting around in his hate propaganda, and NOT getting punished; what kind of message does that send to LGBT youth? No wonder the teen suicide rate in the LGBT community is so high. We have no choice but to build public cases against these morons.

  5. Paul S says

    How would I feel, Nathan? The same way we all felt when homophobic kids did and said cruel things. Everyone in that school is going to know Tyler’s “views” on the subject of being gay; every gay student who has so much as put his nose out of the closet is going to have experienced homophobic insults and slurs–and worse ones than Tyler’s. And everyone is going to go out into the world and go right on experiencing them: in school, in the media, on the street, on the internet. We do young people no favors at all by pretending that everyone is tolerant and sweet, when they’re not. They’ve got to be helped to get thick skins and loud voices and a sense of pride in themselves that will carry them through those sorts of insults.

    I’m not advocating condoning those views. I’m not saying that the school shouldn’t say “Young Tyler is wearing a homophobic slogan which we disapprove of because he’s a stupid little beast”. But why make him take it off? There are no fighting words there; no call for violence; no personal attack on an individual. He’s just saying what lots of (silly) fundamentalists believe, and what every little queer already knows they believe and what–like it or not–the Constitution says they are allowed to believe and to declare.

    The best punishment for young Tyler would be if in a few years he’s sitting quietly at home and his boyfriend says … “Hey, Tyler sweetie, here’s a picture on the internet of you in a very odd sort of T-shirt.”

  6. says

    This is my understanding:
    The case was dismissed as moot as Tyler had already graduated. It cannot be perceived as a victory as every right wing blogger was very happy with this decision.

  7. says

    So, every kid in high school can air his opinion on a T Shirt? Jew haters can wear Swastikas (we really mean no harm), white racists can draw up a logo of a lynching (like batttyman)..paul, thats insane thinking. In public, you can wear what you like, in school, its inappropriate.

  8. Paul S says

    Hang on, Randy. I didn’t say that. I didn’t say “You can never punish any student for saying anything at all.”

    But I see no Swastika there. No call for any lynching, no logo of one. No call for violence at all. I see an expression in pretty measured terms (no objectionable language, no “fag” or “battyman” there) of a view I strongly disagree with. That’s all.

    You’ve always got to draw lines, of course, and it’s often hard to know where to draw them, and they should be drawn with some recognition that we value the right to express views even if we disagree with the views expressed. And that the best way of dealing with bigots and homophobes is to confront them with their bigotry and homophobia, not just force it out of the public eye.

  9. anon says

    Why is it that no-one on this site ever considers the corollary to these court cases. If a school can have a dress code that opposes “hate messages” then they can have one that bans anything “too gay” as well. Likewise, you gotta love the technicality they pulled out a hat, since Brown v. BoE was decided a decade after the poor child left the school system, following this ruling it would have been thrown out and kept school segregation in place. In other words, the court is saying you don’t have a case because the court took too long to decide it. This has got to be a rare decision considering all the cases that go on and on after being technically moot.

  10. says

    Hang on Paul
    That’s not quite true. If i decide to wear a T shirt that says: ACNE IS UGLY, in high school, that may be my right, but its hurtful. High School is when most people come out. I don’t think someone wearing a shirt that suggests what your feeling is shameful is a very good idea. If you don’t see a Swastiska here, you may recall that most Germans and Jews in Germany in the early 1930’s did know what it would come to mean. While you may think its a harmless sartorial statement, it was undoubtedly injurious..and frankly, if i were in his school at this time, well, lets not go there.

  11. Colby says

    With regard to Anon comment just posted – yes, SCOTUS does hear a number of cases in which the original controversy is moot. (The best example I can think of is Roe v. Wade – clearly Roe was not still pregnant several years later when the case came before the Supreme Court.) However, the Court can decide to hear a case when there is a high liklihood that a similarly situated plaintiff would be similarly harmed by the policy. (In this case, his sister, who filed a second lawsuit.)

    Given that the Court likely knew his sister had also filed a suit and given the number of similar cases around the country I believe the Court had a responsibility to hear this case. It’s my opinion that if the Court honestly looked at the precedent surrounding upholding a public school’s right to create an appropriate dress policy, they would have had to have ruled for the school and upheld the policy, making it, in one sense, a LGBT win.

    They chose to duck and run, however (just as in the Pledge of Allegiance case a few years ago – dismissed on procedural grounds (a non-custodial father doesn’t have grounds to sue on behalf of his daughter (boy, that’s nasty precedent, but that’s another story) and by ducking and running, they’ve left the door open to lower courts making inconsistent decisions. Most of which, undoubtedly, we’ll lose. And SCOTUS saves face without overturning precedent regarding public school policy.

    With regard to the policy itself, I personally believe there’s a difference between a “too gay” tee shirt (what, is that one sold by Undergear??) and the hate speech on Tyler’s shirt. Had his shirt simply promoted whatever right-wing nazi church he attends, that would have undoubtedly been fine. To me there’s an important distinction between promotion and destruction. “Homosexuality is shameful” is destructive. It’s speech that infringes on the rights of another student’s safety and well being. The school has every right in the world – and frankly, the duty to prevent harmful and hateful speech in their schools – they are, after all, according to the courts, charged with being our temporary parents while we’re in school.

  12. Leland says

    Paul is a prime example of why we are as weak sociopolitically as we are.

    1. His thinking is shallow to the point of absurdity: nowhere is there any evidence that there is the desire to “[pretend]that everyone is tolerant and sweet.”

    2. The T-shirt’s message IS “hate speech.” And it’s worse because it doesn’t just expess his own hate but also implicity encourages gay kids to HATE THEMSELVES. “Shameful” equals, “anyone who is gay should be filled with shame.”

    3. Anyone unable to see that, who splits hairs over the effective difference between “Kill Gays” and “Gays should kill themselves,” has not embraced their own right to equality, and, therefore, is a part of the problem not the solution.

  13. NYCREDNECK says

    So, should I be able to wear a t-shirt saying “Christ is Make-Believe” or “Baptists are Evil?”

    I have a feeling the answer would be no, and those are things people choose to be.

  14. says

    Tyler Harper chose to wear a shirt that implies that God has condemned homosexuality on a “Day of Silence” at his school. The “Day” was intended to promote tolerance of gays. The shirt also quoted Romans 1:27 (below).

    I think student Harper is a troublemaker.

    Looking at the scripture, I infer that “males burned with lust for one another” because “they did not see fit to acknowledge God.”

    Okay. There is also scripture that endorses tolerance of one another.

    I’ll get back to you on that.

    Romans 1:26-28

    Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural,

    and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.


    High court declines to suspend school dress code in T-shirt case
    (from the San D. U-T, Mar. 6, 2007)

    POWAY – The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to suspend a dress code at Poway High School that is at the center of a continuing legal fight over free speech and religious rights.

    Tyler Chase Harper, a Poway High School student, sued the Poway Unified School District in 2004, saying his rights to freedom of speech and religion were violated when he was pulled out of class for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt.

    Harper wore the shirt during the school’s “Day of Silence,” which is meant to promote tolerance of gays and lesbians. Harper, who says he is a Christian, contended his religion compelled him to speak out.

    He put masking tape on a T-shirt and wrote “I Will Not Accept What God Has Condemned” on the front, and “Homosexuality Is Shameful, Romans 1:27” on the back.

    He at first sought an injunction preventing the district from enforcing a policy aimed at eliminating “hate behavior” that offended students in racial, gender, sexual preference or other minority groups.

    Both a San Diego federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against Harper’s bid for an injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed those earlier rulings yesterday, in an 8-1 ruling. But the closely-watched case – which legal experts said could again reach the high court – remains very much alive.

    The ruling yesterday, which dealt only with the injunction part of the case, was not unexpected.

    In January, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Houston ruled in favor of Poway on the the broader and more substantive issues in the case. Houston found the school’s actions didn’t infringe on students’ rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, nor did he find them hostile to a particular religious viewpoint.

    It is Harper’s appeal of that ruling that is expected to be the vehicle for settling the constitutional battle over religious freedom and free speech, said Jack Sleeth, the school district’s lawyer.

    Harper’s attorney, Kevin Theriot, said yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was important because it also deemed moot an earlier appeals court ruling that seemed to greatly expand school district’s power to ban speech that demeans students based on their status as minorities.

    He said the high court has wiped away that ruling, which he called “one of the worst opinions on student speech in years.”

  15. Chris says

    I dont get how this ever even went to court. I thought schools had the right to make you change your clothes if they thought it was inappropriate in any way. I had to turn my shirt inside out once because I was wearing a Charlies Angels shirt and the girls had big boobs..not bare boobs..Just big. If they can tell girls that they can’t wear midrift baring shirts, or boys that they can’t wear hats, then they should be able to say that you cant wear shirts with certain messages.

  16. anon says

    Which of the following shirt statements should be banned in school?:

    a) “Westboro Baptist Church”
    b) “Fire! Fire!”
    c) “Baptists are Bigots”
    d) “God is Gay”
    e) “I have Two Mommies”

    Inquiring minds and school principals want to know!

  17. John says

    It is very unfortunate that this young man was turned into a hater by those around him (parents?, church?, suburban San Diego County?).

    Imagine the internal conflict he would have been experiencing if he were indeed gay… and dealing with those feelings in high school. Stanger things have happened.

    Parents should not use their children to express their own hatred or fanaticism. Pass it on, please.

  18. says

    I think instead of censoring Tyler Harper we could use his techniques against him. Why not have people from his sister’s campus use the same technique and have messages like:

    Ignorance and Prejudiced and Fear Rise Hand and Hand.

    Homophobia is shameful

    and other queer positive messages attached on masking tape on people’s clothes if Tyler’s sister does the same activism as her brother.

  19. Paul S says

    Randy, when you call my thinking “shallow to the point of absurdity”, is that hate speech? It ain’t nice, of course. It pisses me off. It’s supposed to. But it isn’t hate speech, it’s the expression in strong terms of a legitimate opinion, and I have to live with it.

    There’s real hate speech out there. There ARE people who advocate killing us. There ARE people who would like us to kill ourselves. Tyler didn’t say that. None of it. He said things that, however offensive, are totally mainstream: things the Pope would agree with.

    His speech is hate speech only on the theory, explicitly adopted by the majority opinion in the Ninth Circuit that SCOTUS has vacated, that saying anything nasty about a minority is “hate” speech. That’s a screwed up definition, which (if adopted) would come back to haunt US when we had something to say about the way muslims execute gays, or the ridiculous things fundamentalist Christians say.

    Once you start treating anything offensive as “hate speech” and as such outside the realm of constitutional protection, you have effectively eviscerated freedom of speech. A right to say the things that no-one could reasonably object to is … shallow, to the point of absurdity.

    Tyler Chase Harper’s nasty opinions (if they are his own) are not worth the masking tape they are written on. I’d be happy to tell anyone who’ll listen why he’s wrong. But he has a right to drivel his drivel; and we all benefit from that right. Once establish the idea that “offensive to a minority” = “unworthy of constitutional protection” and OUR rights won’t be looking so precious. You fight stupid ideas by better ideas, not by censorship.

  20. Leland says

    Paul, may I call you Shit for Brains, er Paul? It wasn’t Randy who referred to your “shallow to the point of absurdity” thinking. ‘Twas I. And, your rejoinder, in addition to misidentifying the person you’re attempting to respond to, further demonstrates the limits of your analysis, though you do put the “anal” in that word.

    1. Hate speech need not incite violence in order to qualify as hate speech.

    2. That beliefs are “mainstream” hardly eliminates the possibility that they can be “hate speech,” unprotected or not. And, did you just awaken from a coma? There is no more perfect an example of homohate mongering than the Pope. And, for the record, one of Harper’s own attorneys has equated it with, in his words, “hate behavior.”

    3. You are broadbrushing legal protections for speech. Even I would defend the right of a person to walk down a public street wearing Chase’s shirt. But the courts have repeatedly ruled that public schools are a unique environment in which protections. See below.

    4. You misrepresent the 9th Circuit ruling, which addressed the merits of the case only in the context of ruling on an injunction Harper’s henchmen wanted to prevent the school from continuing to enforce the dress code while the merits of the case were being adjudicated. From their decision:

    VI. Conclusion
    We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the preliminary injunction. Harper failed to demonstrate that he will likely prevail on the merits of his free speech, free exercise of religion, or establishment of religion claims. In fact, such future success on Harper’s part is highly unlikely, given the legal principles discussed in this opinion. The Free Speech Clause permits public schools to restrict student speech that intrudes upon the rights of other students. Injurious speech that may be so limited is not immune from regulation simply
    because it reflects the speaker’s religious views. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s denial of Harper’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

    And, in a follow-up ruling in response to a request to reconsider, one of its judge’s wrote, and he could have been referring to you:

    “Whatever the reason for the dissenters’ blindness, it is surely not beyond the authority of local school boards to attempt to protect young minority students against verbal persecution, and the exercise of that authority by school boards is surely consistent with Tinker’s protection of the right of individual students ‘to be secure and to be let alone’. Tinker, 393 U.S. at 508.”

    And: “GOULD, Circuit Judge, concurring in the order denying the petition for rehearing en banc: Hate speech, whether in the form of a burning cross, or in the form of a call for genocide, or in the form of a tee shirt misusing biblical text to hold gay students to scorn, need not under Supreme Court decisions be given the full protection of the First Amendment in the context of the school environment,
    where administrators have a duty to protect students from physical or psychological harms.”

    As Andy made clear, the Supreme Court has NOT yet ruled on the legality of the dress code policy at his former school, how it was applied to him, nor how it is being applied to his sister.

  21. John says

    I watched his video (thanks for the link). He’s spouting a learned, fanatical message: This government would not be letting him speak the “truth” if he couldn’t wear those hateful, hurtful messages on his shirt.

    Homophobia is learned behavior just like every other irrational prejudice. Homophobia has no place in public school! Shame on those who turned this child into a hater.

  22. yoshi says


    So let me understand this… you state:

    1. Hate speech need not incite violence in order to qualify as hate speech.

    But then you call Paul out as having ‘shit for brains’ and ‘just awaken from a coma’. How ironic…

    It never seizes to amaze me how people that yell for equality the loudest are usually the same idiots that jump on anyone else who ventures a different opinion then they. This is why i am so against hate crime laws. It when idiots like you define what a hate thought is.

    And as for Tyler Harper – he is nothing and the shirt is nothing. We have real issues to worry about then some stupid t-shirt.

  23. Chet Lemon says

    Sorry folks, Harper did not “lose” his case. On the contrary, the most important part of the ruling was the fact that the SCOTUS WIPED OUT one of the most hideous anti-liberty rulings ever to be concocted by the 9th Circuit.

    If anything, it was a “win,” not a “loss” for Harper.

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