Last year, student Seth Groody from Wolcott Public School in Connecticut wore an anti-gay shirt with a slashed rainbow. On the opposite side of the shirt, it read “Excessive Speech Day,” with male and female stick figures holding hands.
School officials told Groody he could no longer wear the shirt, but the higher courts recently struck down that decision, claiming his right to wear the shirt is protected by freedom of speech.
“Public school students need to know that the First Amendment is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee of freedom in America that entitles them to express their views,” said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “We commend the Wolcott school system for recognizing students’ fundamental right to free expression under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Constitution of Connecticut.”
The case borderlines on hate speech, but still falls under the First Amendment which helps protect such viewpoints.
“It’s important that students not be censored. Schools need to encourage more speech, not lessen it,” ACLU Legal Director of Connecticut Sandy Straub told 429Magazine. “It is protected speech. If it crossed the line, if it was personally demeaning and disrupted the school, it would fall as one of the exception.”
Hate speech involves different terms and different usages than what was represented in this case, according to Straub.
“Some people describe the situation as hate speech, but in this case, not so much,” Peter Scheer, Executive Director of the First Amendment Coalition, told 429Magazine. “Did he have extreme views on killing gays? No. Was he against marriage equality? Possibly, but it’s not hate speech.”
Cases concerning anti-gay messages in school have occurred in the past. In 2006, the ninth circuit allowed California student Tyler Harper to wear a shirt that read, “Homosexuality is shameful.” In 2008, Chicago student Heidi Zamecnik, expressed her religious beliefs with the slogan of “Be Happy, Not Gay.”
“We are fighting for marriage equality,” says Straub regarding the ACLU’s support of the issue. “We disagree with [Groody], but it’s not about if [he’s] right, it’s about freedom of speech for students.”