|Shirt sparks free speech debate|
|Written by Daily Vidette Editorial Board|
|Thursday, 12 April 2012 14:11|
A news story out of Ohio has sparked some debate over students' free speech rights in public schools. High school student Maverick Couch wore a shirt to school that said, “Jesus Is Not A Homophobe” and displayed a Christian fish symbol.
Couch was asked to turn his shirt inside out by Waynesville High School’s principal and was threatened with suspension if he wore it again.
The principal told Couch that the reason he needed to cover his shirt was because it was “indecent and sexual in nature.” However, the school’s superintendent said the principal was prompted by a student complaint.
First, the slogan displayed on Couch’s shirt was not necessarily “sexual in nature.” No sexually explicit words of an inappropriate nature appear on the shirt. Never mind that it was not an outwardly offensive attack on someone else’s beliefs, but merely a show of support for his own.
It sounds as though what was really going on here was the principal trying to appease the complaints of the student or students. Since he had to have an official reason for telling the student to change, he picked the only one he could.
Of course, teachers and administrators have certain logical and significant reasons for wanting to keep distractions in the classroom to a minimum. However, disagreement among students is not necessarily a distraction that warrants ostracizing one student for no reason. We doubt that a complaint from an atheist student about someone else’s church or religion-affiliated shirt would result in the same disciplinary action.
Saying this type of discipline is acceptable when one’s wardrobe draws enough complaints is essentially saying that a student must conform to the social and political beliefs of the majority.
Though administrators limit certain rights of public school students, we think the right of this student to wear his shirt is still protected. The Supreme Court decided in 1969 in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that a student could wear a black armband representing his protest of the Vietnam War.
The court decided that, in order for a school to limit speech, they “must be able to show that [their] action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”
As a follow up, the high school has declared they will allow Couch to wear his shirt on the National Day of Silence this April 20, which is a day meant to recognize the silencing of homosexual students in our country through intimidation.
While ultimately the student wants to be able to wear his shirt, allowing him to wear it just one day is trite, meaningless, and degrading. It is like saying, “We do not value your opinion, but we’ll give you this one day if it really means that much to you.”
If the very explicit Supreme Court precedent wasn’t enough, this temporary easement will seriously hurt the school’s case. Why isn’t the shirt “indecent and sexual in nature” on April 20? What is different about that day and the day that Couch was asked to turn his shirt inside out? Unfortunately, the day was different because it was not assigned a meaning and a message, and his shirt sent a strong one.