Court rules students could not wear anti-gay T-shirt

ILLINOIS — A federal district court denied a preliminary injunction request April 17 that was filed by two Neuqua Valley High School students who wanted to wear their anti-gay T-shirts that read, “Be happy, not gay.”

A lawsuit was filed by the parents of Heidi Zamecnik and Alexander Nuxoll against the Indian Prairie School District March 21 for prohibiting Zamecnik from wearing her T-shirt on April 20, 2006. The students wanted to wear the shirt this week in support of the “Day of Truth,” a nationwide silent protest against homosexuality in opposition to the “Day of Silence” that is traditionally held the day before. Zamecnik and Nuxoll have both attributed their protesting to their Christian beliefs.

The court ruled that the school’s violation of religious rights cannot be substantially supported “in light of the alternative forms of expression that will not be restricted” for the April 18 silent protest. The court described the alternatives as, “messages positively expressing support for heterosexuality.” The court also stated there would be more a risk in granting the injunction as opposed to denying it.

Attorney Jack Canna, who is representing the school district, said he has spoken with community members that were concerned about a ruling that would permit “problematic remarks” at school.

“I think the issue presented is not necessary in relation to gays or homosexuality, but the issue of controlling offensive and disruptive conduct between kids,” Canna said.

Attorney Jonathan Scruggs of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights organization, said an appeal is being filed with the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said he realizes the case is somewhat different from others because of the “controversial” message in question, but is still “disappointed” in the ruling.

“The school is attempting, in their words, to promote a community of tolerance,” Scruggs said. “But when a message comes along that the school doesn’t like, it censors it. It has to protect speech in any case. You can’t suppress speech just because someone might find it offensive.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer

Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie Sch. Dist. #204 Bd. of Ed., No. 07-1586 (N.D. Ill. prelim. inj. denied Apr. 17, 2007).

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