District, students reach partial agreement in 'Be happy, not gay' lawsuit

ILLINOIS — The Indian Prairie School District may amend itsdress code in order to settle part of a three-year-old lawsuit that resultedafter a student wore a controversial T-shirt.

On April 20, 2006, Neuqua High School student Heidi Zamecnik wore aT-shirt that read, “Be Happy, Not Gay,” to oppose the “Day ofSilence,” an annual, nationwide protest supporting gayrights.

To celebrate the “Day of Silence,” students areencouraged to wear T-shirts, buttons or stickers that support gay rights.Students are also encouraged to keep silent to show support for those who arediscriminated against.

According to the 2007 suit, Zamecnik wore her T-shirt thefollowing day and was called to the dean of students’ office. After Dean BryanWells spoke with Zamecnik’s mother, the two agreed to change the wordingon her T-shirt from “Be Happy, Not Gay,” to “Be Happy, Be Straight.”

However, rather than changing the wording to what Wells andZamecnik agreed upon, he crossed out “Be Gay,” so that the T-shirtonly read, “Be Happy.”

The suit alleges that by changing the wording of her shirt,the school violated Zamecnik’s freedom of speech.

According to an agreement between attorneys for the school district and thestudents, the school board has decided to amend the district policies andstudent handbook. In return, the students will dismiss some aspects of the case,said Jonathan Scruggs, an attorney at the Alliance Defense Fund,a Christian group that defends freedom of religion.

The proposed new district policy would read that students cannot wear”garments or jewelry with messages, graphics or symbols… which arederogatory, inflammatory, sexual or discriminatory… unless the restrictionthereof would infringe upon any right to exercise free expression or the freeexercise of religion or religiously based views protected under the FirstAmendment.”

The board is scheduled to vote on the policy Oct. 19. However, Scruggssaid regardless of the outcome of the dress code policy, the caseis far from over.

A U.S. District Court denied a preliminary injunction requiring the schoolto permit students to wear the “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirts in December2007.

In April 2008, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decisionand directed the trial court to enter the injunction. In May 2010, the trialcourt made the injunction permanent.

Scruggs said the school district is currently working onanother appeal.

“The district court said our clients’ rights wereviolated, and I look forward to defending that result at the appellatelevel,” he said.

Curt Bradshaw, president of the Indian Prairie School Board,was not able to respond to the request for comment by press time.