CHICAGO — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys won an important decision Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit against Indian Prairie School District on behalf of high school students prohibited from expressing their religious views about homosexual behavior on T-shirts. The court rejected Indian Prairie’s argument that school officials could justifiably put the First Amendment aside and censor T-shirts with the message “Be Happy, Not Gay” to prevent some students’ from having their feelings hurt.
“Christian students shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “The 7th Circuit has, once again, rightly recognized the First Amendment-protected rights of students on a public school campus. In an environment that freely allows speech that promotes homosexual behavior, the school simply cannot shut out the opposing viewpoint.”
“[A] school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality,” the 7th Circuit’s opinion reads. “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. But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.”
In April 2006, Heidi Zamecnik, a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, wore a T-shirt to school with the message “Be Happy, Not Gay.” She wore the shirt because the school permitted other students the previous day to wear shirts showing support for homosexual behavior as part of the “Day of Silence,” an event promoted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.
Even though Zamecnik’s shirt caused no disruptions, the school’s dean demanded later that day that 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 did not abide by the agreement and instead had a female counselor cross the words “Not Gay” off Zamecnik’s shirt so it simply read “Be Happy.”
Alex Nuxoll, another student at Neuqua Valley High School, desired to express his perspective in similar fashion throughout the same year, including the school day following the “Day of Silence.” The 7th Circuit issued a ruling in April 2008 that resulted in a preliminary injunction preventing school officials from singling out Nuxoll’s message for censorship while the case, Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District #204, moved forward in court. Tuesday’s decision upholds a 2010 summary judgment decision issued by the district court in favor of Nuxoll and Zamecnik.
- Pronunciation guide: Zamecnik (ZAM’-uh-nick)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.