An Illinois high school student is in federal court seeking the right to wear T-shirts that declare sentiments such as “Be happy, not gay.”
Heidi Zamecnik, of the Chicago suburb Naperville, wants to wear the shirt at school the day after the “Day of Silence,” a nationwide observance April 19 to protest harassment of homosexuals in schools, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Zamecnik is asking the court to order her school, Neuqua Valley High, and Indian Prairie District 204 to allow her to express her family’s “conviction that true happiness cannot be found through homosexual behavior.”
The “Day of Silence,” according to its website, calls for teachers and students to observe the day quietly “to echo” the silence homosexual students face all the time. Students commonly wear “pro-gay” shirts that day.
According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Zamecnik and a freshman student, the “Day of Silence” “encourages students to show visible support for homosexual lifestyle by refusing to speak during the school day, while conveying written messages in the form of T-shirts, buttons, and stickers, all of which promote homosexual behavior.”
The Sun-Times reported Zamecnik did not outwardly object to the event during her first two years of high school, but in her junior year she wore a shirt after the “Day of Silence” that read, in part, “Be happy, not gay.”
The suit claims Dean of Students Bryan Wells told Zamecnik the shirt offended others and she had to remove it or go home. Her mother, Linda Zamecnik, was called when she refused.
Wells and Linda Zamecnik agreed the shirt’s message could be altered to read “Be Happy. Be Straight.”
The lawsuit, however, contends the agreement was breached when a school counselor crossed out “not gay” in black marker, but did not replace it with the agreed phrase.
The principal and superintendent, the suit states, told Linda Zamecnik their staff did nothing wrong.
The mother tried to meet with Principal Michael Popp but was put off several times before finally he told her school rules bar students from wearing messages that “upset” other students, the suit claims, according to the local Daily Herald of Arlington, Ill.
The family contends that because of their daughter’s viewpoint, she suffered unlawful discrimination, humiliation and punishment.
They cite the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment clause of equal protection, which prohibits one group from expressing its religious and philosophical viewpoints while stifling another.
The students came to school 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. The prinicpal insisted the school’s actions were justified as many students “were upset” because the shirts “were rude.”
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