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Federal Appeals Court Rules Chicago-Area Student Had Right to Wear Anti-Gay T-Shirt to School


In a case that has been ongoing since 2006, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois had the right to wear a shirt that said "Be Happy Not Gay".

The Sun-Times reports:

The court had rejected Indian Prairie School District 204’s argument that school officials could prohibit students from wearing the shirts to prevent some students from having their feelings hurt.

In its opinion, the court said a “school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.”

“The school argued (and still argues) that banning ‘Be Happy, Not Gay’ was just a matter of protecting the ‘rights’ of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed,” the court said. “But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.”

Heidi Zamecnik, a student at the time, wore the shirt in response to GLSEN's "Day of Silence" in which students take a vow of silence against bullying and in support of other LGBT students.

Regarding the condition of the shirt above:

The school’s dean demanded she remove it or be sent home for the day. After speaking with Zamecnik’s mother by phone, all agreed to change the shirt to read, “Be Happy, Be Straight.” However, the dean instead had a female counselor cross the words “Not Gay” off Zamecnik’s shirt so it simply read “Be Happy.”

The appeals court ruling overturns two previous rulings by lower courts.

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  1. A despicable ruling.

    Posted by: Anonymouse | Mar 2, 2011 11:08:22 AM

  2. As that shirt appears to be cheap and made in magic marker, if you really want to offend the girl who made it and her family based on their own identity, wear a shirt that says "Be Happy, Not Inbred."

    Posted by: bobbyjoe | Mar 2, 2011 11:19:43 AM


    You obviously don't know a lot about the First Amendment. There are tons of Supreme Court cases that explicitly state that students don't lose their First Amendment rights just because they are in school. The schools are only allowed to censor speech when it interferes with a legitimate mission.

    Additionally, you might not be able to get away with standing outside of the school and saying "my teacher is an idiot." The reach of the school to censor speech does not end at school yard boundaries.

    Go and read a book before you try to school anyone.


    Those shirts would be OK under the First Amendment too. It pretty much all depends on why the school is trying to censor your speech. The school can censor to "maintain order," or any other goal in line with a legitimate mission for a school, but they cannot censor your speech, because they don't like or other students don't like it. They just can't.


    If it were any of those other things, it would be upheld also. The courts are heavily interested in protecting the rights of speakers. Look at the recent Supreme Court decision for example. EVERYONE (not just gays) hates the Phelps church, yet the Supreme Court upheld their First Amendment rights. But these comments on Towleroad would have you believe that they ruled for the Phelps church because they were using anti-gay speech.

    Posted by: bravokilo | Mar 2, 2011 11:26:06 AM

  4. The argument that the message of the tee shirt is not disruptive or not inciting discord in the student body is laughable. It specifically says "Don't be gay." Its message is inherently that there is something wrong with being gay. I am with Jack. If I were a student there, I would be insulted and prone to call the dumb ass hick who wore the shirt a bigot.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Mar 2, 2011 11:26:37 AM

  5. Decision sucks, although it is consistent with First Amendment protections of American idiots. After all, it costs money to print up "Mommy Smoked Crack and Stuck Her Tummy in the Microwave While She Carried Me and All I Got Was This T-Shirt and Severe Brain Damage" T-shirts. It's good that morons self-identify themselves, I say.

    And just for the record: Anastasia Beaverhausen wins Teh Internetz today!!! Well-played, gurrrrrrll!!!!

    Posted by: One of the CA 36,000 | Mar 2, 2011 11:36:30 AM

  6. @ Romanhans

    Your quote: "Logic lesson #1: Just because something is a first amendment right doesn't mean it's allowed in SCHOOLS. Got that, commenters?" Since your disagreement is with the justices on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, your comment should read: "Got that 7th Circuit justices?"


    I think you're right when you say that a school can only censor student speech when they can successfully argue that it interferes with the school's teaching mission. However, I can't help but agree with Candideinnc, who thinks that the "Don't be gay" message is disruptive enough to interfere with a school's teaching mission.

    Posted by: Phil | Mar 2, 2011 11:44:57 AM


    RE-READ what I posted:

    '.... Of course, an individual employer [private or public], institution, can restrict many activities on their premises or among their employees or students.'

    Posted by: ratbastard | Mar 2, 2011 11:45:53 AM

  8. @PHIL,

    Laws and regulations on this issue as regards to schools are vague [deliberately]...school officials will push the envelope to see what they can get away with just like some students. Sometimes [not always] it's settled in a court. Courts almost always rule in favor of free speech, freedom of expression.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Mar 2, 2011 11:50:15 AM

  9. The whole matter of this situation is, schools can regulate speech if that speech interferes with a schools' basic ability to operate on all cylinders, basically, if someone is causing a disruption, and in this case this lady most certainly was by INTENTIONALLY TARGETING a group of people in a hateful way, on a day KNOWINGLY meant to promote equality, then the school is within their rights to tell her to take off the shirt. It's not about the shirts being anti-gay or anything else, it's about the schools themselves having rights.

    Posted by: Francis | Mar 2, 2011 11:50:20 AM

  10. @francis,

    The courts obviously disagree with you. And what's you definition of 'All Cylinders'?

    Posted by: ratbastard | Mar 2, 2011 12:12:24 PM

  11. "But these comments on Towleroad would have you believe that they ruled for the Phelps church because they were using anti-gay speech."

    @BRAVOKILO: The Phelps case is very different from the school case. Many of us, including myself, believe the Supreme Court ruled correctly in the Phelps case, however repellent their speech may be. Your assertion that the court would have ruled the same in the school case if any other group had been targeted remains questionable. Maybe, maybe not.

    Schools have traditionally been given wide latitude in determining the sorts of speech students can bring into the school environment. Targeting fellow students for ridicule through biased speech could very well be seen as disruptive to the targeted student's learning. It doesn't surprise me that lower courts ruled the other way. There are many things that can be said in the public sphere that are not allowed in schools.

    Posted by: Ernie | Mar 2, 2011 12:19:08 PM

  12. I say send in Mystique! "You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school" - KaPOWW!

    Posted by: Hollywood, CA | Mar 2, 2011 1:08:03 PM

  13. I'll wear a shirt that says "Be Christ-like, not Christian," but I suspect most who consider themselves Christians wouldn't get it.

    Posted by: MrRoboto | Mar 2, 2011 1:56:43 PM

  14. This ruling infers being gay is a choice...that we made the choice to behave this way and deserve any and all consequences for that choice. It does not take a scholar to read inbetween the lines to how this was worded.

    Time and time again, we as gays are the only acceptable group of people to voice militant disdain toward. I remember having a Jewish coworker fired from her job for jokingly saying a Jewish slang term (JAPS) out loud. The whole office thought her saying that (even jokingly) was the worst experience they endured, two people filed complaints, all sorts of accusations about it being offensive...I often think about how much derogatory terms and words we as gays endure and it's perfectly acceptable yet if ANYONE says ANYTHING about ANY other group of people.....they are automatically fired. Automatically.

    When it comes to us...we're constantly thrown under the bus. That's why it is essential we as gays stick together, stop putting one another down, roll up our sleaves, get involved and get active. Any gay person with a spine and a conscience is an activist. We do not deserve to be treated less than...so get out there and make our voices heard for once. I know I'm doing my part.

    Posted by: IonMusic | Mar 2, 2011 4:17:01 PM

  15. Schools enforce dress codes of all kinds, in many you are not allowed to wear hats in school...why? it is a distraction to the learning process. They have that ability and guideline. To wear a shirt that says "don't be gay" is the epitome of being disruptive for the purposes of being disruptive to a singled out group of students. In a school setting, it is enviromentally disruptive to that setting to wear a shirt that promotes that divide...and can indeed lead to distraction from learning at best, and at worst...unnecessary destruction and conflict.

    Many schools have banned far worse, and the question is, why is anti gay speech enabled to be displayed by students in that classroom setting?

    Ratbastard: you've a homophobe. We've all known and come to a decision that you're here to troll. You're "opinion" doesn't hold weight here. You've been called out for your anti gay trolling many times before. Now go river dance off a cliff..would ya?

    Posted by: Kyle G. | Mar 2, 2011 4:34:34 PM

  16. I've always wanted to make a t-shirt that says: "Jesus took it up the arse."

    That's my right... Isn't it?

    Posted by: nudel | Mar 2, 2011 7:30:24 PM

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