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ACLU challenges Ohio school’s ban on ‘straight but supportive’ t-shirts

Thursday, November 1, 2012
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CELINA, Ohio — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Thursday called on Celina High School administrators to reconsider their decision to prohibit students from wearing shirts that express their support of LGBT students, calling the ban “unconstitutional.”

The ACLU action comes after some 20 students went to school Tuesday wearing home-made T-shirts that read “I Support… [Rainbow] Express Yourself” and “Straight but Supportive,” a show of support organized by sophomore Jimmy Walter.

Photo via: Think Progress

The student demonstration was in response to two students at Celina High School who celebrated “Twin Day” with T-shirts that read “Lesbian 1″ and “Lesbian 2,” but were ordered to remove the shirts by school officials.

According to a report by Zack Ford at Think Progress, Assistant Principal Phil Metz forced the students to remove the shirts because they were “political,” and those who did not were given detention with the threat of suspension.

Though Metz and Principal Jason Luebke have yet to respond, Superintendent Jesse Steiner offered this weak defense for the disciplinary action:

“The only reason they would be told that they couldn’t wear something is if it is a disruption of the educational process, or if it’s not allowed in the handbook. And there’s a line in our handbook about drawing undue attention to yourself.”

The ACLU of Ohio said that administrators have since offered various justifications for their actions, including the fact that the shirts were “political.” However, students have reported that they are routinely permitted to wear anti-abortion T-shirts to school as well as shirts that express support for, or criticism of specific political candidates.

“Schools should be a place where students are free to express their beliefs,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “None of these young people acted inappropriately, and only wished to express their support for all members of their community. Expressing their views did not disrupt the learning environment, but now the administration’s unconstitutional overreaction has.”

“The school has silenced these students on the basis that other individuals who disagree with their message may become upset and disruptive,” added Hardiman. “This amounts to a ‘heckler’s veto’ and is not a valid justification for suppressing free speech.”

“Allowing some students to wear shirts with political messages, while prohibiting others from doing the same thing is a clear case of unconstitutional censorship,” said Hardiman. “Regardless of the viewpoint they are expressing, students do not shed their First Amendment rights when they enter school.”

The ACLU’s letter to Celina High School officials is here (PDF).

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