A federal judge ruled in August that a school district violated the First Amendment rights of a seventh-grade student when it stopped him from wearing a T-shirt with an anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-abortion message.
James Nixon wore a shirt to Sheridan Middle School in Thornville, Ohio, in September 2004 that he was given at a church camp that summer. The front of the shirt, which is black with white lettering, states: “INTOLERANT. Jesus said… I am the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6.” The back of the shirt reads: “Homosexuality is a sin! Islam is a lie! Abortion is murder! Some issues are just black and white!”
Judge George Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio found that the First Amendment protected Nixon’s right to wear the T-shirt.
“If the mere fact that other students will likely find a message offensive justified a school’s regulation of expression, then a student’s right to freely express himself would be greatly diminished,” Smith wrote.
In making his decision, Smith distinguished between speech that is offensive because of the manner in which it is conveyed and speech that contains a potentially offensive political viewpoint. Smith found Nixon’s shirt to fall under the latter category.
Smith found the school’s censorship failed to meet the censorship standard established by the Supreme Court in its 1969 decision, Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, which said students were allowed to express themselves on school grounds unless their speech was unlawful or seriously disrupted school.
“[W]hen no disruption occurs and no reasonable threat of any disruption exists, district courts uphold a student’s right to express political viewpoints under Tinker,” Smith wrote. “The mere fact that …[students at the high school]… could find the shirt’s message offensive, falls well short of the Tinker standard for reasonably anticipating a disruption of school activities.”
The school district does not intend to appeal the decision, said Jack Porter, the district’s superintendent.