Injunction Granted in "Day of Truth" Case

I wrote previously about the case of Benjamin Arthurs, a North Carolina high school student who was prevented from handing out "Day of Truth" cards at his school the day after other students were allowed to hand out "Day of Silence" cards, as well as prevented from wearing a t-shirt that said "I love Jesus, you should too" on it. Now a Federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction in the case enjoining the school from enforcing their policy against handing out relgious literature in schools. The case will now proceed to trial on the specific allegations.

The Day of Silence is an annual pro-gay rights event where students do not speak for the day, and when someone speaks to them they hand them a card that explains that they are staying silent for the day in protest of the mistreatment of gays in this country. The Day of Truth is the religious right's response to that event. It's obvious which side I'm on here, but as a simple matter of law the school is absolutely wrong. You cannot allow one group of students to hand out cards advocating their position on an issue and then prohibit another group of students to do the same thing. This is a legal no-brainer and I can't imagine why the school is bothering to fight it at all. They're in the wrong.

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There is one asymmetry.

When the students say that they are silent, they are right... they aren't talking.

However, when the other students say that they have access to the Truth, they are not necessarily right.

Just from the title of the days, one group is clearly expressing a viewpoint and making an assertion about their own behavior. The other group is making an unsubstantiated assertion of fact.

Of course, the "Day of Truth" card in the exhibit doesn't say anything about "gay=evil" or any such, which would undermine what I just said. The implication is clear, yes, but the card isn't even blatantly offensive. Of course, it also says that silence isn't freedom, it's a constraint... but it should be obvious that freedom of speech should include freedom not to speak....

In any event, I agree with you. When schools clamp down on what really should be freedom of expression, not only is it wrong, it also feeds the right-wing paranoia that The Culture is trying to suppress them.

Ed, you wrote:

"The Day of Silence is an annual pro-gay rights event where students do not speak for the day, and when someone speaks to them they hand them a card that explains that they are staying silent for the day in protest of the mistreatment of gays in this country. The Day of Truth is the religious right's response to that event."

If the Day of Truth had been merely presented as an anti-gay response to the event, then by all means, they are on equal footing. Since it was, however, formulated as a response by an organized religion(s), using their religious beiiefs to counter a secular position, I think they are correct in taking a closer look at the matter.

You are wrong these are not the same things. The day of silence is not about religion or hate. However, the school is within the law and withing reason to prohibit hate speech and religious preaching by students.

If the Day of Truth had been merely presented as an anti-gay response to the event, then by all means, they are on equal footing. Since it was, however, formulated as a response by an organized religion(s), using their religious beiiefs to counter a secular position, I think they are correct in taking a closer look at the matter.

Why should they take a closer look? Have any school officials anywhere actually endorsed the "Day of Truth" side? If not, there is no need for scrutiny. To allow the gay students to protest by not speaking for the day seems a little more of a fine line - I think it is right and should be allowed, but not speaking can, in a minor way, have an impact on classroom instruction. I don't know if all schools allow it, but many of them allow students to refrain from talking in the classroom as a normal part of daily instruction.

What you seem to be missing here is that while schools cannot endorse any religious activity, they cannot keep students from religious expression, outside of instruction time. Just as you can't restrict students from political expression, though the schools cannot make specific political endorsments either.

Look at the last sentence; "using their religious beiiefs to counter a secular position." That right there, is an endorsement of a religious position. It simply says that those who have a religious belief, do not have the right to express the social aspects of their beliefs - simply because they are religious. That what they believe is not valid, because it is religious in nature. I am sorry, but the state should not be allowed to endorse any religious expression, including anti-religious expression.

You are wrong these are not the same things. The day of silence is not about religion or hate. However, the school is within the law and withing reason to prohibit hate speech and religious preaching by students.

For the religious aspect of your comment, see my last.

I do not see any hate speech. Just as a student has the right to express their distain for the political views of other students, outside class time, religious kids have a right to express their religious and cultural beliefs. Now when they move it into the realm of hate speech, it is a different story. I.e. if a student says that s/he believes that killing animals for food is wrong and people who eat meat are murderers - it is reasonable, protected speech. If that same student were to say that anyone who eats meat should be drawn, quartered and cooked alive, it becomes hate speech. Likewise, if a student says that homosexuality is a sin and that gays should change their lifestyle to conform with what they believe is "god's" perfect plan, it is and should be protected speech. But if that student was to claim that gays should be imprisoned, shot, beaten or abused, it becomes hate speech.

With respect, the school is correct. The student in question was wearing a T-shirt that said, so far as I recall: Homosexuality is shameful. Or words to that effect.

The students who were silent, however, weren't denigrating anyone. They were opposing general bigotry against gay students. They weren't creating a hostile environment, they were appealing for tolerance.

Suppose that gay-hostile student had worn a T-shirt saying: Negroes or Jews are shameful. Would that have been OK?

The school has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all its students. Allowing a student to single out a particular group and call them shameful, inviting persecution with those words, is contrary to providing a safe environment for the group singled out.

Most of the people attending high school, surprisingly enough, are not adults. They do not have absolute rights to say whatever they think, whenever they think it. They are subject to rules that they have to obey, whether they like it or not, as they are minors. The school is not obliged to pander to every statement of bigotry against other students in that school, and in my view is obliged to curtail them.

By Lesz Rzepecki (not verified) on 05 Nov 2006 #permalink

Or am I getting confused about cases?

By Lesz Rzepecki (not verified) on 05 Nov 2006 #permalink

Lesz:

yes, you are confusing this with something else. The T-shirt in question was Christian, but not one of those in-your-face you're-going-to-hell types. As I recall, the original story said it was a shirt he had worn to school numerouse times with no trouble, but that the the school administration thought the shirt in conjunction with the Day of Truth cards was too much religion.

Ed is right, this was a no-brainer. By the way, almost all administrators have to take one (or more) school law courses to gain their certification. It doesn't always seem to take.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about the case. I'm not a lawyer, but I am of the opinion that public schools should be able to limit speech when that speech involves blatant dehumanization of certain members of the student body.

To expand on what Lesz Rzepecki said, imagine a case where a student (or group of students) were passing out literature warning of Jewish NWO conspiracies. That is political speech, but it runs the risk of endangering a subset of the students when the school should be a safe environment for all students.

In the wider society, speech should be completely free. But the public schools are an institution most people are required by law to attend. I would feel the same way if some student accused Christians of being repressed sex-maniacs who ritualize cannibalism. It's something that doesn't belong in an institution of learning, at least not one owned by the public.

By Tyler DiPietro (not verified) on 05 Nov 2006 #permalink

Tyler:

I agree, there are perfectly good reasons to keep political discourse out of schools. However, that is not the issue here.

In this case, the school had already opened the debate by allowing the Day of Silence to take place, even going to the extent of publicizing and tacitly (if not expressly) endorsing it. Having opened the forum, they are not in a position to then say that students with an opposing position cannot avail themselves of the same forum.

Had I been the principal, I would have allowed both. High School is about learning to be an adult, and the free flow of ideas in debate is part of that. Make it a teachable moment and demonstrate that people can hold differences of opinion without fear.

RAHrules wrote:

If the Day of Truth had been merely presented as an anti-gay response to the event, then by all means, they are on equal footing. Since it was, however, formulated as a response by an organized religion(s), using their religious beiiefs to counter a secular position, I think they are correct in taking a closer look at the matter.

Absolutely false. When it comes to student speech (as opposed to speech by a government employee while doing their job), the school (i.e. the government) cannot censor religious speech any more than they can censor non-religious speech. The fact that the content of the speech was religious and in opposition to a non-religious position is completely irrelevant to the constitutional question.

writerdd wrote:

You are wrong these are not the same things. The day of silence is not about religion or hate. However, the school is within the law and withing reason to prohibit hate speech and religious preaching by students.

Even if you were right (and frankly, the entire notion of "hate speech" as something the government can prohibit is nonsense), there was no hate speech here. The kid's t-shirt said "I love Jesus. So should you." The cards he wanted to hand out were not the least bit hateful, they merely expressed the Christian view that homosexuality is sinful. And no, the school cannot prohibit student speech merely because it is religious. That's called viewpoint discrimination and it is clearly unconstitutional, as the courts have ruled many times.

Lesz Rzepecki wrote:

With respect, the school is correct. The student in question was wearing a T-shirt that said, so far as I recall: Homosexuality is shameful. Or words to that effect.

No, that is a different case, Harper v Poway. In this case, the t-shirt simply said, "I love Jesus. So should you." There is simply no way to justify banning that shirt under any circumstances. But even in the Harper case, the school was wrong and I hope the Supreme Court grants cert in that case and overturns the 9th circuit. A person has just as much right to say that homosexuality is shameful as I have to say that it's perfectly acceptable. The government cannot prohibit one side in an ongoing controversy from expressing their opinion.

Suppose that gay-hostile student had worn a T-shirt saying: Negroes or Jews are shameful. Would that have been OK?

That's not at all analogous. Even in the Harper case, the student didn't say "homosexuals are evil", he said that homosexuality is shameful. That's his opinion and he has every right to express it (and I have every right to condemn that opinion, but not to prevent him from expressing it).

The school has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all its students. Allowing a student to single out a particular group and call them shameful, inviting persecution with those words, is contrary to providing a safe environment for the group singled out.

Safe from harrassment and bullying, yes; safe from contrary ideas, absolutely not. If the t-shirt had said, "Faggots must die" or something like that, then there's a case for harrassment. But that wasn't the case in Harper, and it sure as heck wasn't the case in the situation this post is about. We should not treat anyone as being so fragile that they must be protected against all disagreement. Expressing the idea that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, shameful, and so forth, is unquestionably protected free speech.

kehrsam wrote:

In this case, the school had already opened the debate by allowing the Day of Silence to take place, even going to the extent of publicizing and tacitly (if not expressly) endorsing it. Having opened the forum, they are not in a position to then say that students with an opposing position cannot avail themselves of the same forum.

Had I been the principal, I would have allowed both. High School is about learning to be an adult, and the free flow of ideas in debate is part of that. Make it a teachable moment and demonstrate that people can hold differences of opinion without fear.

You hit the nail squarely on the head here. This is an ideal moment for teaching that tolerance and the first amendment is a two way street, not one. It protects the right of students to engage in the Day of Silence (a project I strongly support) and to form groups like Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (which I support even more strongly) and to advocate for their beliefs; it also protects the other side. Rather than protecting gay students from hearing contrary ideas, I would try to build a dialogue between the two sides, encouraging them to express their positions respectfully and without malice. They might even find this a great opportunity for those kids who have absorbed an anti-gay message to actually get to know some of their fellow students who are gay, to talk to them about how difficult it can be for a gay teenager to face hostility and hatred. It might even result in changing some minds, or at least give those kids a glimpse of the fact that gays are really just like them. But the constitutionality question is an obviously teachable moment for both sides, a chance to teach them that you cannot claim the protections of the first amendment for yourself while denying them to others.

One other point, which I had forgotten until I went back and read the complaint. The school in question is located in Dunn, NC, long the home of Jesse Helms. I think the facts show that progress is being made.

DuWayne,

Look at the last sentence; "using their religious beliefs to counter a secular position." That right there, is an endorsement of a religious position. It simply says that those who have a religious belief, do not have the right to express the social aspects of their beliefs - simply because they are religious. That what they believe is not valid, because it is religious in nature. I am sorry, but the state should not be allowed to endorse any religious expression, including anti-religious expression.

You couldn't be further off course if you were using a compass made of lead. You, and everybody else, are guaranteed your rights to any religious beliefs you hold, in private, in your home, in your church, and on the street corner or in the public park. But they are specifically prohibited in any public institution, going from Congress down to public schools, including anti-religious beliefs. I can't imagine where you got from what I said that they should be acceptable.

It comes down to your final summation: "The state should not be allowed to endorse any religious expression, including anti-religious expression." It seems as though the school did not find anything religious in "The Day of Silence", and it did find religious undertones to the "Day of Truth" and I applaud them for stepping in and taking action.

Considering that this whole thing took place in North Carolina, it is very good news that the former puppets of the "Conservative Right" are beginning to wake up and realize that we are a country of people, not a country of a church.

RAHRules wrote:

You couldn't be further off course if you were using a compass made of lead. You, and everybody else, are guaranteed your rights to any religious beliefs you hold, in private, in your home, in your church, and on the street corner or in the public park. But they are specifically prohibited in any public institution, going from Congress down to public schools, including anti-religious beliefs. I can't imagine where you got from what I said that they should be acceptable.

I'm sorry, but the fact that you typed this utter nonsense with such a smug and sarcastic introduction is quite ridiculous. You are absolutely, positively, 100% wrong. Religious beliefs are not "prohibited in any public institution" at all. The distinction you are missing completely is between government endorsement of religious beliefs (which is forbidden in public schools or other public institutions) and individual religious speech, which is not only not forbidden in schools, it is protected in schools to exactly the same extent that non-religious speech is protected. A student has exactly the same right to express a religious belief in schools as he is to express a non-religious belief. In neither case can they do so in a manner that disrupts the school's educational purpose (for instance, a student who stood up in the middle of class and disrupted the class to rant would be equally forbidden from doing so whether his rant was religious or non-religious). But in both cases, as long as the speech is not disruptive, a student's right to express a religious viewpoint (whether in discussion with classmates over lunch or in any other exchange of views, like handing out pamphlets, or in messages on their clothing, stickers in their locker, whatever) is protected to exactly the same extent as their right to express a non-religious viewpoint. This is a settled matter of law, not the least bit controversial. No one, not even the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State, takes the position that individuals students cannot express religious views while at school. Indeed, the ACLU has frequently defended the right of students to do so, most recently in the Massachusetts "candy cane" case and a Michigan case involving a valedictorian who wanted to use a Bible verse for her personal quote in a yearbook. You are about as wrong as it is possible to be on this issue and you will find not a single legal scholar or a single court case that agrees with you.

RAHRules -

If I, as a student, wanted to start a Young Christian Club to meet and pray on public school property I could do so on the same basis as the Chess Club or the Drama Club. The school cannot say no merely because I wanted to do something that was religious in nature.

There is a huge difference in what the students are free to express (and this includes freedom to express religious beliefs on the same basis as non-religious beliefs) - and what the instruments of government (teachers and administrators) can do.

Individual freedom of speech good ... government endorsement of religion bad.

RAHrules -

I won't explain why your wrong or how, as that has been done rather elegantly by Ed and Dave. But I would like to add that your response was obnoxious. I did not get snitty or rude with you and do not appreciate your being so with me. If this is your level of discourse, you are not worth engaging with. I am not always polite or kind to people whom I dissagree with. When people start bashing LGBTs for example, I am quite capable of getting nasty with them. But even when people make arguments that I strongly dissagree with, ifd they do so in a polite and reasonable fashion, I respond in kind. If you cannot dain to do so, please refrain from aggressing me, rest assured I shall you.

With respect, the school is correct. The student in question was wearing a T-shirt that said, so far as I recall: Homosexuality is shameful. Or words to that effect.

Doesn't matter. Students are allowed to express their moral beliefs, no matter how incorrect or stupid.

Considering that this whole thing took place in North Carolina, it is very good news that the former puppets of the "Conservative Right" are beginning to wake up....

From a strictly political standpoint, you may want to rethink this. If I'm a religious righty in NC, I'm thinking to myself, "those damn liberals in the teacher's union think they can brainwash my kids into thinking homosexuality isn't sinful?"

This is one case where the legal is politically smart. As Ed notes, what would be better is using the moment for opening political dialogue, if possible.

Sorry, that should have read, "addressing me" not "aggressing me."

Ed Brayton said "The cards he wanted to hand out were not the least bit hateful, they merely expressed the Christian view that homosexuality is sinful."

This is where you're wrong Ed. That is hateful. There is no evidence of the supernatural and it certainly has been looked for. All the evidence suggests man created god in his image and hate is obviously the motivation to say gay sex is a sin. The only rational reason to call something a sin is when someone is harmed. Gay sex in a loving committed supportive relationship hurts no one. It brings people together and brings pleasure. Only a hateful person expresses the point of view that gays should be tortured for an eternity for loving supportive relationships. Men wrote the bible and it represents their hateful viewpoint.

By Randi Schimnosky (not verified) on 06 Nov 2006 #permalink