The 9th District Court of Appeals ruled last week that officials at a California high school have the right to prohibit anti-gay t-shirts. The officials had ordered students not to wear them because the shirts were disruptive.
In April, the panel found administrators at Poway High School did not violate Tyler Harper’s First Amendment rights when they banned him from wearing a T-shirt that read “Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned,” on the front, and “Homosexuality is shameful,” on the back.
In a fiery opinion released Monday, the judges opposed to granting the re-hearing said Harper’s shirt was tantamount to wearing a shirt that says, “Hide Your Sisters — The Blacks Are Coming,” and said allowing such slogans violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 precedent in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School. District
Tinker permitted students in Des Moines, Iowa, to wear black armbands protesting the Vietnam War because this was symbolic free speech and would not create a disruption, but it did give school officials the right to limit speech that could create a disruption in the educational process.
The 9th Circuit case is the exact opposite of what we saw in Webb City at the end of 2004, when gay student Brad Mathewson sued the school district after he was not permitted to wear gay pride t-shirts. His case was dismissed after he dropped out of school but another student, LaStaysha Myers, a friend of Mathewson's who was not gay and who was prevented from wearing a similar shirt to support Mathewson, sued. The case was settled with the school district relaxing its prohibition on such shirts, but retaining the right to take action if shirts became disruptive.
Today's Washington Post features an editorial that urges the high court to take this case and help clarify student rights.