Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Neuqua Valley High School students would be allowed to wear “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirts under a ruling Tuesday by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court had rejected Indian Prairie School District 204’s argument that school officials could prohibit students from wearing the shirts to prevent some students from having their feelings hurt.
In its opinion, the court said a “school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.”
“The school argued (and still argues) that banning ‘Be Happy, Not Gay’ was just a matter of protecting the ‘rights’ of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed,” the court said. “But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.”
Nate Kellum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys who represented the students in the suit, responded: “In an environment that freely allows speech that promotes homosexual behavior, the school simply cannot shut out the opposing viewpoint.”
In April 2006, Heidi Zamecnik, a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, wore the T-shirt to school after the school permitted other students the previous day to wear shirts showing support for homosexuals as part of the “Day of Silence.”
That event, promoted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, intended to draw attention to harassment of homosexuals.
The school’s dean demanded she remove it or be sent home for the day. After speaking with Zamecnik’s mother by phone, all agreed to change the shirt to read, “Be Happy, Be Straight.” However, the dean instead had a female counselor cross the words “Not Gay” off Zamecnik’s shirt so it simply read “Be Happy.”
Alex Nuxoll, another Neuqua Valley student, wanted to wear a similar shirt to class. He had twice filed for an injunction that would suspend the school’s policy that prevented him from wearing the T-shirt.
Twice the courts denied that request. But in April of 2008, the 7th Circuit Court reversed the lower courts’ rulings, saying the district court must order Neuqua to suspend its ban on the shirt while the civil rights lawsuit filed by Nuxoll and Zamecnik proceeded.
District 204 board President Curt Bradshaw said he could not yet comment on the ruling.