Seventh Circuit Rules That School Cannot Prohibit “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirt

Late last month, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case in which an Illinois school district prohibited two students from wearing T-shirts that read “Be Happy, Not Gay,” on a day that had been designated by others as a day designed to bring awareness to gay rights causes.

The district had a policy that prohibited “derogatory comments, oral or written, that refer to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.”  The students argued that the district policy, both on its face and as applied to this situation, violated the free speech and free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Court declined to hold that the policy facially violated the constitution, but did hold that the policy was unconstitutionally applied to these students.  In short, the Court determined that the shirts did not create, nor were they expected to create, the substantial disruption that the district would need to show in order to prohibit the wearing of the shirts.

Note that public school districts do have the right to regulate certain speech that is within the school, in order to protect other students from bullying, intimidation, etc., but the district also still must show that the particular speech to be prohibited causes a “substantial disruption” to the school day.

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