A dozen high school students suspended for wearing T-shirts expressing their religious beliefs are considering filing a lawsuit.
The students at Oakmont High School in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Roseville were participants in an event Thursday at more than 700 high schools across the nation to counter the homosexual-activist “Day of Silence,” called the “Day of Truth.”
The Oakmont students came to school Thursday with shirts emblazoned with the message: “Homosexuality is sin. Jesus can set you free.”
School officials gave them an ultimatum: Remove the shirts or face disciplinary action. Thirteen students decided to keep their shirts on and were suspended for two days.
Kathleen Sirovy, principal of Oakmont High School, insisted the school’s actions were justified as many students “were upset” because the shirts “were rude.”
The non-profit legal group representing the students, Pacific Justice Institute, or PJI, said the school “did not address whether religious students might have been equally offended by pro-homosexual expression connected with the Day of Silence.”
The 12 students have filed appeals of their suspensions with school district officials and are considering filing a lawsuit, PJI said.
Kevin Snider, the group’s chief counsel, said PJI is committed “to providing a vigorous defense of these students’ First Amendment rights.”
Students at other area schools were suspended for similar actions, PJI said, including at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento and San Juan High School in nearby Citrus Heights.
Some supporters of the “Day of Silence” also questioned whether school officials were justified in silencing the opposition.
Lance Chih, a high school student and co-chairman of the Sacramento Regional Gay Straight Alliance, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper, “If they’re stating their own belief that homosexuality is wrong, that’s not promoting hate or violence against us. If I want to promote my civil rights, I can’t tell another group of students that they can’t do it.”
PJI President Brad Dacus said “tolerance must be a two-way street.”
“Our society cannot afford the suppression of religious viewpoints just because some people disagree with or don’t like those views,” he said.
The number of participants in the “Day of Truth” has doubled over last year, according to the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which sponsored the event.
ADF President, CEO and General Counsel Alan Sears sees the “Day of Truth” as an opportunity to express a different perspective than the “Day of Silence,” promoted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network.
“Allowing the communication of one viewpoint and claiming it’s the only viewpoint is advocating, not educating,” Sears said.
Meanwhile, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower-court ruling against a San Diego-area high school student who wore a T-shirt displaying the messages: “Homosexuality is shameful” and “Our school embraced what God has condemned.”
In his majority opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the student’s constitutional rights were not violated because the message on his shirt was offensive to homosexual students. Reinhardt has been involved in other controversial rulings, deciding last year parents have no “fundamental right” to exclusively provide information to their children about sexual matters and in 2002 concluding the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because of its reference to “under God.”
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