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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Free Speech and the Right to Disagree

By Dennis Byrne

If a high school gives students permission to openly express their support of homosexuality, then why shouldn't other students be allowed to voice their disapproval?

A federal court judge in Chicago might have to answer that question after a high school student in Naperville, IL, a suburb southwest of Chicago, filed suit charging that her civil rights were violated by school officials by not letting her wear a pro-heterosexual T-shirt last year.

Neuqua Valley High School's refusal to let Heidi Zamecnik, 17, wear a T-shirt saying "Be happy, not gay" on the back and "My day of silence, straight alliance" on the front was especially egregious because it came on the same day that the school permitted other students on the national "Day of Silence" to openly express their support of homosexuality.



Bo said...

My name is Bobbie and I live in Chicago. For the record, I am a straight male sympathetic to the difficulties of the LGBT alliance. That said, I recently read your article "Free Speech and the Right to Disagree" on, an article that I enjoyed very much. In it, you address many of the sticky nuances of free speech as it applies to minors and/or the school environment. As thorough as your argument was, I feel that there is a major aspect of this debate that you omitted. The student in question wore a shirt that read: "Be happy, not gay" (an apt pun, especially for a grade-schooler). By commanding the readers of the shirt to 'be' something, this statement clearly implies that one has a choice in the matter, that one could choose to stop being sexually attracted to the same gender. Whether you (or I) agree with this 'choice' theory is besides the point; the science supporting either viewpoint is grossly inadequate. However, as it is an open issue, one must not exclude either argument as wrong until there is authoritative evidence to either side. As such, commanding people to "[not] be gay" seems to this author to be eerily similar to saying 'be white, not black' or 'be hairy, not bald.'

Phillsophically, I must disagree with the school and would have allowed the girl to where her shirt. However, I also believe that at such a young and impressionable age, messages that perpetuate long-held urban myths (such as homosexuality being a choice), are the reason that a Day of Silence is even needed in the first place. The students at such a school are at the age where sexuality is becoming an important issue in their lives and, as such, the school is right to be cautious with messages that are demeaning and further add to the midunderstanding that many children that age have about homosexuality. So rather that banning or allowing the shirt to be worn, would not it be more productive to teach the students' how this message affects other students?

Mark said...

My name is Mark, and I live in Maine, but school in Vermont.

After reading your article entitled "Free Speech and the Right to
Disagree," I feel I need to tell you my opinion.

I feel that the issue isn't about two similar statements from separate
sides. I feel that Ms. Zamecnik's comments are
anti-homosexual. The "Day of Silence", however, is for acceptance,
not necessarily pro-homosexuality, and definitely not
anti-heterosexuality. While Ms. Zamecnik and her friends should be
allowed to voice their opinions, they should not be allowed to do so
in such a way because it is discriminatory by teling the reader to be "not gay."

If they wish to show their aggravation that heterosexuals are frowned
upon showing heterosexual pride, or just to show their heterosexual pride, then they should demonstrate
independent of "Day of Silence," and if they feel it necessary to
express themselves on "Day of Silence," they should do so by focusing
on their own issue, they certainly should not demonstrate against the
"Day of Silence" events.

If, however, they wish to display their opinion that homosexualism is wrong, then it should be in a different, much more controlled forum, if at all in a school. By demonstrating against "Day of Silence," hey are stating that the silencing of the LGBT community is acceptable, which is discrimination.

I feel that you are mistaken when you say that "the issue in Naperville
shouldn't be a problem." I think it is a problem, and it should be addressed.

I agree with the Naperville school administrators, and I hope that
the court feels the same way.