Court Rejects Anti-Gay Challenge To School Dress Code

Tyler HarperSAN DIEGO – The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to suspend a dress code at Poway High School that is at the center of a continuing legal fight over free speech and religious rights.
Tyler Chase Harper, a Poway High School student, sued the Poway Unified School District in 2004, saying his rights to freedom of speech and religion were violated when he was pulled out of class for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt.
Harper wore the shirt during the school’s “Day of Silence,” which is meant to promote tolerance of gays and lesbians. Harper, who says he is a Christian, contended his religion compelled him to speak out.
He put masking tape on a T-shirt and wrote “I Will Not Accept What God Has Condemned” on the front, and “Homosexuality Is Shameful, Romans 1:27” on the back.
He at first sought an injunction preventing the district from enforcing a policy aimed at eliminating “hate behavior” that offended students in racial, gender, sexual preference or other minority groups.
Both a San Diego federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against Harper’s bid for an injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed those earlier rulings yesterday, in an 8-1 ruling. But the closely-watched case – which legal experts said could again reach the high court – remains very much alive.
The ruling yesterday, which dealt only with the injunction part of the case, was not unexpected.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Houston ruled in favor of Poway on the the broader and more substantive issues in the case. Houston found the school’s actions didn’t infringe on students’ rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, nor did he find them hostile to a particular religious viewpoint.
It is Harper’s appeal of that ruling that is expected to be the vehicle for settling the constitutional battle over religious freedom and free speech, said Jack Sleeth, the school district’s lawyer.
Harper’s attorney, Kevin Theriot, said yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was important because it also deemed moot an earlier appeals court ruling that seemed to greatly expand school district’s power to ban speech that demeans students based on their status as minorities.
He said the high court has wiped away that ruling, which he called “one of the worst opinions on student speech in years.”
from The San Diego Union Tribune

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