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T-Shirt Wars: A Temporary Victory for the Mean Spirited

Timothy Kincaid

April 24th, 2008

behappy.bmpAlexander Nuxoll sued his school district in order to be allowed to wear the slogan “Be Happy, Not Gay” on a t-shirt on the Day of Silence. Twice now courts have upheld the school’s right to ban insulting and discriminatory messages.

But now the Naperville Sun is reporting that appeals Judge Richard Posner has validated Nuxoll’s right to wear his message of condemnation – at least until he has his day in court.

But on Wednesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed the lower courts’ rulings against Nuxoll, saying the district court must order Neuqua to suspend its ban on the shirt while the civil rights lawsuit filed by Nuxoll and Neuqua grad Heidi Zamecnik proceeds.

“We cannot accept the defendants’ argument that the rule is valid because all it does is protect the ‘rights’ of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed,” states the court’s opinion, authored by Judge Richard Posner. “Of course a school can – often it must – protect students from the invasion of their legal rights by other students. But people do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or for that matter their way of life.”

Now that everyone can wear “criticism of beliefs” on their t-shirts, I wonder how Nuxoll would feel if he showed up to his class on the “Day of Truth” and found that all of his other classmates were wearing t-shirts that criticized his beliefs. But I don’t recommend that… it wouldn’t be the way I’d want to be treated.

See also:
T-Shirt Wars: Appeals
Arizona House Passes Bigot Protection Act
Anti-Gay T-Shirt Wars

Comments

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Joel
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

Lol.. im SO MAKING my own t-shrit for that day. Day of silence or truth is unheard of hear(even though were US territory) but if it ever actually happens(the day of truth or silence). Im wearing one about christianity. Best start brainstorming/researching. Going to need something short, witty and thought provoking.

” their way of life.”” That almost sounds like lifestyle. The t-shirt is ambigous as to what it means by gay. Does it mean the attraction, the behavior, or simply sodomy? SInce it doesnt specify, it means all of them.

Whaddo you think about this one: “Dear Christian: Don’t masturbate, its healthy.”
Or an anti-christian, anti-gay one. “Dont be gay(or black), be Micheal Jackson”(but id get beat up by blacks so… this is one is reserved for public christian concerts)

Jason D
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

Some ideas…

“Get Off The Cross, We Need The Wood.”

or

“Me = Living my life, hurting no one.
You = Trying to tell me what to do.

Which one of us is wrong, again?”

or

“All men are created equal…

that means me, too.”

cowboy
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

My Two Dads can beat up your One Dad

Or even:

My Two Mommys can beat up your one Dad

Queer and Proud
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

“Be Moral, Not Christian” or “Be Ethical, Not Christian” or “Be Upright, Not Christian” all come close to the heart of the matter, I think.

empirecookie
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

It’s a bit long, but how about the line from Hannah and her Sisters:

If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.

Chuck
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy, you’re missing the point, which is found in the First Amendment. The question isn’t whether the idiot with the T-shirt is an idiot. The point is that people have the right to express their beliefs, even if their beliefs are stupid.

I actually think that the other commenters on this thread got the point, and have the right idea: make your own T-shirt. The answer to idiocy isn’t censorship, it’s truth. Free speech isn’t the disease, it’s the cure.

Joel
April 24th, 2008 | LINK

““Get Off The Cross, We Need The Wood.”” LOL…

““Be Moral, Not Christian” ” THats so ironic its offensive… i like it X_X

toujoursdan
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy, you’re missing the point, which is found in the First Amendment. The question isn’t whether the idiot with the T-shirt is an idiot. The point is that people have the right to express their beliefs, even if their beliefs are stupid.

I am not an American, but find it hard to believe that the First Amendment gives someone a right to say whatever they want, where ever they want, with no social, legal and professional consequences at all.

I have worked for several US companies and know my speech rights are limited as an employee. I could be fired if I said racist, sexist, or other bigoted statements on the job. I could even be fired for making those statements publicly on behalf of the company in another venue, like writing a letter to the editor to a newspaper, saying I am a manager of X company and then saying that blacks should be sent back to Africa.

Has this student’s right to express themselves really been limited in toto? Or is this a limitation that we all accept in order to exist harmoniously in a place that we have to come together?

I don’t see anything that limits the right of the student to wear this shirt off campus.

Finally, the “Be Moral, Not Christian” statements are self defeating. There are many many Christians who are pro-gay. Statements like that alienate your allies as well as your adversaries.

Joel
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

although i know there are legal limits… i do not believe that A) there should be any
B) If any illegal/demeaning seem to be present but are found just be freedom of speech, it just corroborates what i said

Touj.. your right, it could alienate pro-gay christians. As it could attract atheists, so one thing cancels the other imo.. not really self defeating. 1+(-1)=0. IMo tho.. unless you wear it in pride parade… the pro-gay or anti-gay thing is not going to jump at you. If i wear it, its just an anti-christian atheist slogan, not an anti-christian gay one.

Jason D
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

toujoursdan,

There are certain limits on freedom of speech, for example you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded building unless there is, in fact, a fire or life threatening emergency. They often tell women that if they are being raped (or about to be raped) they should yell “fire” because it will get attention and possibly get others to stop the attack, or scare the attacker away.

You also cannot openly threaten the life of the president.

In general you cannot threaten someone’s life without legal action.

You can’t use freedom of speech to incite a riot, or coax a minor to cross state lines.

You can’t publicly defame someone with lies. If it’s spoken, it’s slander. If it’s written, it’s libel. This doesn’t apply to classes of people, unfortunately, as gays could easily sue half the public evangelical Christians alive today.

Chuck
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

toujoursdan:

Private employers can do what they please. The government can’t. The power of public schools to limit the speech of students is generally limited to pedagogical concerns. Which would mean that in this instance, the school would have to prove that this particular student’s right to free speech is significantly outweighed by its disruption of the school’s ability to education students. I’m not sure it gets there.

And more to the point, I’m uncomfortable with any legal regime that favors a particular viewpoint. The fact that I agree with the favored viewpoint in this case doesn’t make me more comfortable, because in another instance (or in another school) the situation could be different. The state shouldn’t be in the business of picking sides until someone gets hurt, and I’m not persuaded that being insulted and/or offended is sufficient “hurt” to justify censorship. You’re all avoiding the word “censorship,” but that is what we’re talking about here.

That having been said, my original point was less legal than prudential. Should the student be censored, or should the student’s argument be refuted? I submit that generally, and specifically in this instance, the more effective and persuasive response is to answer offensive speech instead of using the coercive power of the state to silence it.

Queer and Proud
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

toujoursdan:

My liberal Christian friends would get exactly where I was coming from with such a t-shirt. As for the rest of the Christian world – the ones who maybe don’t actively hate us but don’t bother to stand up and oppose discrimination against us whether in their churches or by the government – I honestly couldn’t care less if they were offended by such a t-shirt. At best, I think there is little correlation between morality and Christian identity, and more likely, there is a negative correlation. That religion has done queers no favors.

Timothy Kincaid
April 25th, 2008 | LINK

Chuck,

I don’t think I’ve missed the point and indeed I suspect I’ve thought about this much more than you have. While I have libertarian instincts, I recognize the difficulty that this places on schools which already are overloaded with problems.

The issue of free speech hinges on the right of others to walk away from your “freely speeched” statement. You have the freedom to state your views, I have the freedom to state my own, and we both have the freedom to avoid each other.

But students are not free to stay away from Nuxoll or his proclamations – they are by law required to attend school and sit in the assigned class.

There are already acknowledged limitations on speech in schools. Obviously a student can’t shout down the teachers. Nor can they claim “free speech” for screaming at the teacher that they are a “f***ing idiot”.

The question is whether the school can set dress (and thereby speech) standards such as ‘no language that disrespects another individual or group’.

ADF claims that Christians students have the right (or obligation) to express their contempt for homosexuality in the classroom and that gay students just have to lump it. The school is claiming that they have the right to remove pejorative language or attack messages from the educational experience.

The SCOTUS has previously declared that students have free speech. But that was a case in which the administration did not like the message. This is one in which the message is intended to insult other students.

Ultimately, we cannot have completely free speech in our schools. If that happened here in LA, there would be race wars on campus even more than there already are.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

But I think that ADF is playing with fire. If they win, they are opening themselves up to students wearing t-shirts that mock the faith of other students. And there are plenty of t-shirts that I find incredibly offensive to my faith and I think Christian kids should not have to be subjected to daily mocking of their beliefs in a forced-attendance setting.

We know a line has to be drawn. But just where to draw the line is a tricky question.

Joel
April 29th, 2008 | LINK

“We know a line has to be drawn. But just where to draw the line is a tricky question.”
Is it necessary to draw the line? What if someones screams ‘fucking idiot’ to the teacher? I fail to see how someone saying that disrupts the classroom(for more than a second) and demeans the person. Im referring to a mature school setting though(like a university). Are we going to base off limits in accordance to the sensitive because the do not feel like ppl should express their opinion(as unsubstantial and inane as it may be).

FOr children however, since their still developing and believe/assimilate what they hear quicker and with less judgement then adults… i would agree that limits benefits them. Protecting them from ‘insults’ for which they probably do not have the capacity to distinguish between whats bullshit and whats relevant, is a reasonable limit to establish.

YOu say… “This is one in which the message is intended to insult other students.” this would be relative imho. Christians will not find that they(and their children) are insulting their fellow classmates.. rather, they are loving them(with christ’s perfect standard). SO… you would, in fact, be delibaretly opposing their belief of spreading the word of God and ultimately rejecting it and tossing it as not fit for children. Hows a christian not supposed to feel marginalized/suppressed when their whole life revolves around God, and his teachings. “Without GOd I am nothing” comes to mind. What a disease christianity, religion for a matter of fact is, *nod. As if a completely secular society would incontundently lead to the extinction of it. I would like for someone to prove that is true(without quoting X ‘sacred’ sci-fi book).

+ one for secularity(for whats right), – one for christianity. This is good news, indeed.

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