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Colorado school forces gay marriage supporter to change her shirt

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2010

Falcon High School in Falcon, Colorado, has a student dress code:

The Board recognizes that students have a right to express themselves through dress and personal appearance; however, students shall not wear apparel that is deemed disruptive or potentially disruptive to the classroom environment or to the maintenance of a safe and orderly school.

The school even provides specifics on forbidden clothing. The first five rules relate to revealing items, but the sixth category addresses expression:

6. Any clothing, paraphernalia, grooming, jewelry, hair coloring, accessories, or body adornments that are or contain any advertisement, symbols, words, slogans, patches, or pictures that:

* Refer to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or weapons.

* Are of a sexual nature.

* By virtue of color, arrangement, trademark, or other attribute, denote membership in gangs that advocate drug use, violence, or disruptive behavior.

* Are obscene, profane, vulgar, lewd, or legally libelous.

* Threaten the safety or welfare of any person.

* Promote any activity prohibited by the student code of conduct.

* Create a safety hazard for the student or others.

*Otherwise disrupt the teaching-learning process.

These seem clear. However, when Kate Cohn wore a shirt to school which said “[marriage is so gay]”, the principle made her remove it, insisting it was in violation to the school policy. (KKTV)

“Our district does have a dress code policy, all the students are aware of it,” said District 49 spokesperson Stephanie Meredith. According to Meredith, the school’s principal acted within the parameters of the school dress code, which gives an administrator room to decide when a line has been crossed.

“If it’s obscene, lewd, or anything that might be disruptive to the educational environment,” Meredith said, “Those are things where a judgment call might come into play.”

Cohn’s pro-gay-marriage message is not obscene or lewd. Which must mean that Principal Greg Moles Mike Carara finds this message to “disrupt the teaching-learning process.”

I wonder exactly what teaching and learning Moles Carara doesn’t want disrupted by Cohn’s support for her gay friends and family.

Comments

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Tina C
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks for posting this.

Kate could use “factual and peaceful” letters of support sent to her school.

Hope you’ll take the time to help her help us.

werdna
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Unfortunately the local news item (which seems to be the only primary source here) is pretty vague about why the administrators thought this t-shirt violated the dress code. Even if the administration can’t come up with a good reason I can offer one. You can’t simultaneously prohibit kids from using the phrase “that’s so gay” because it’s abusive to gays and allow exceptions for ironic usages, as is the case here. This would open the door for anyone to claim, if challenged, that they are using the phrase ironically.

If Ms. Cohn was told to remove a t-shirt with a similar pro-marriage equality message phrased in a more innocuous way I’d be more concerned. Perhaps more details will emerge which make it clear that the administrators objected to the message of the t-shirt, not the language used. As it is, I can’t see much reason to be upset about this.

Kevin
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

The ACLU should know about this. And they’ll win in court. Guaranteed.

Tina C
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Werdna- good point. i hadn’t thought of it that way.

certainly from the student’s side, she believes that she was prohibited from expressing her support of marriage equality.

i hope they- school and students- are able to address this in a way that is informative & supportive of all students.

JoBro
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Just so you know, the Principal’s name is actually Mark Carara.

Timothy Kincaid
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks JoBro, my error.

kate
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Hi! I’m the girl this is about! I just want to clarify to all wondering. I specifically asked the principal, “If I wear a straight forward shirt saying ‘Legalize Gay Marriage’ instead of one that may be taken another way would it be ok?” and without a minutes thought he said “No! That would not be ok either”

Lindoro Almaviva
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

Well, Kate, time to talk to the local chapter of the ACLU. I am sure if someone showed up with a shirt that read “Jesus is the Lord of marriage” he would have no problem with it. Here is the information you should know:

ACLU of Colorado
400 Corona Street
Denver, Colorado 80218

Phone: (303) 777-5482
Fax: (303) 777-1773
info@aclu-co.org

Piper
November 4th, 2010 | LINK

dress codes can be stupid. When I was in HS we weren’t allowed to dye our hair colors that “were not naturally found in hair”. Kate, I would definitely contact the ACLU.

David in Houston
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

To play devil’s advocate here, if this t-shirt is allowed then why can’t a student wear a t-shirt that reads, “The bible says homosexuality is a sin.”? If that’s the student’s belief, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to wear it? Freedom of speech has to work both ways, otherwise it isn’t freedom of speech.

Priya Lynn
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

David, because the marriage t-shirt is a message of acceptance while the sin t-shirt is a message of rejection. Its the same reason a school might allow a “black is beautiful” t-shirt and disallow a “blacks are inferior” t-shirt.

Leo
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

David in Houston:

Well a T-shirt advocating gay marriage is not denigrating or attacking anyone. Unless you’re in that school of thought that believes any pro-gay statement is somehow, by it’s very nature, a direct attack on others ie Christians.

Implying that someone is a sinner is, ahem, pretty denigrating.

If she wore a t-shirt that claimed that anyone who is opposed to gay marriage is an inbred bigot then that would be denigrating and not probably not appropriate.

tina
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

To David and all,

It does work both ways. That shirt would be covered under freedom of speech.

http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/hate-speech-campus

Priya & Leo- help me out, I’m not an expert on free speech, but it’s not my understanding that acceptance/rejection or denigration are factors in freedom of speech. (unless it’s a one-on-one interaction that is taken as “fighting words”)

I’m not trying to be a pain. I think it’s important that we actually know the extent of our(and others’)rights.

Tina C
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

okay, i’ve tried to post 3 things after Leo’s comment. if, whoever’s checking these (assuming they aren’t flying off into the interweb ether) reads this…

just post one of them. take your pick.

muchas gracias

Tina C
November 5th, 2010 | LINK

alright, ignore the above comment.

I was trying to include a link (triggered the spam filter) to the ACLU’s page on hate speech.

David & gang- a shirt with “Homosexuality is a Sin”, as I understand it, would be covered under free speech.

I see nothing that excludes speech that is “denigrating” or “rejecting” from protection under the 1st Amendment.

Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

My question: what is it about a “Homosexuality is a Sin” shirt that wld be a problem?

Can you articulate that for me?

Timothy Kincaid
November 6th, 2010 | LINK

Tina,

I don’t know why, but your comments with the link were caught in the spam filter. I approved one.

Priya Lynn
November 7th, 2010 | LINK

Tina said “Priya & Leo- help me out, I’m not an expert on free speech, but it’s not my understanding that acceptance/rejection or denigration are factors in freedom of speech.”.

Tina free speech isn’t a mandate of schools. Schools routinely restrict free speech to ensure a safe effective learning environment. So while a “gayness is a sin” t-shirt would be covered under free speech, a school is not obligated to allow such denigrating speech.

Tina C
November 9th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy- thanks, who knows where they went. after 3 evaporated comments, I was getting slap-happy.

Priya- i see your point, yet I question whether calling something a sin is denigrating. … as i type that, it sounds horrible… but hear me out.

what I am getting at is that, if that is someone’s belief, that’s their belief. it’s not reality.

if someone wore a shirt that said “Eating Cows is Bad Kharma” or “Sunday Shoppers Defile the Sabbath. Repent Sinners,” would that be equally denigrating?

Can you help me make sense of this?

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