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A brief has been filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California again challenging a school district’s policy that allows such slogans as “Stop the Hate,” “fags,” “queers,” “that’s so gay” and even “I Kiss Boys,” but bans “Romans 1:27.”
The case stems from punishment handed down by the Poway Unified School District for student Chase Harper, who was a sophomore in 2004 when the school recognized the “Day of Silence,” an annual promotion in public schools of the homosexual lifestyle.
The event, scheduled this year for April 25, is targeted for exposure by a campaign assembled by a multitude of Christian organizations.
“It’s outrageous that our neighborhood schools would allow homosexual activism to intrude into the classroom,” said Buddy Smith of the American Family Association, one of a long list of organizations asking parents to keep their students home from school on that day.
“‘Day of Silence’ is about coercing students to repudiate traditional morality. It’s time for Christian parents to draw the line – if your children will be exposed to this DOS propaganda in their school, then keep them home for the day,” he said.
The “Day of Silence” promotion is intended, ostensibly, to make students “aware” of the “discrimination” suffered by homosexuals in society, by having students remain silent for the day. Such events typically are organized by a school’s “Gay-Straight Alliance” group, but the event has been promoted for its previous 11 years by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
The case over Harper’s expression of his opinion developed in Poway High School in 2004. The district, which operates 23 schools in San Diego and 11 in Poway, serves about 33,000 students. But when Harper wore a T-shirt with two slogans: “Be ashamed. Our school has embraced what God has condemned” and “Homosexuality is shameful. Romans 1:27,” he was ordered either to take the shirt off or spend the day in the school office, where he was photographed, questioned and challenged by a police officer.
The Bible verse reads, in the New American Standard version, “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
A school administrator then told Harper he should “leave his faith in the car.”
The 9th Circuit initially ruled the school may have been justified in its censorship, but in March 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision.
Chase, and his sister, Kelsie, have renewed their case because of the potential impact of the school policy that prohibits students from expressing any religious beliefs that might be seen as “negative” or “offensive” by others.
The new brief submitted to the 9th Circuit notes that the school specifically authorizes recognition of the pro-homosexual “Day of Silence,” and has allowed a variety of slogans, including “loser,” and a purple square and yellow “equal” sign.
But it bans Harper’s specific statement of Christian faith.
“Our education system is the incubator of democracy. And our democratic system depends on the ability of its members to engage in vigorous debate. Thus, schools have a duty ‘to guide students through the difficult process of becoming educated, to help them learn how to discriminate between good concepts and bad, to benefit from the errors society has made in the past, to improve their minds and character,'” said the brief, quoting from a previous federal court ruling.
“But schools may not eliminate all diversity of thought. To do so would allow schools to become precisely what [the U.S. Supreme Court] said the First Amendment could never tolerate: ‘enclaves of totalitarianism’ where students are ‘confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved,” the brief said.
“The school has made no attempt to respect the balance struck by the Supreme Court between preserving an effective educational environment and safeguard students’ free speech rights. Accordingly, the Harpers respectfully request that this court reverse the lower court decisions and remand the case with instructions to enter summary judgment in the Harpers’ favor on their facial challenges to the school’s speech policies…” said the filing submitted by the Alliance Defense Fund and Advocates for Faith and Freedom, two law organizations.
“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” said Tim Chandler, ADF legal counsel. “They have the same First Amendment rights as all other students on campus. Speech cannot be silenced simply because someone else disagrees with it or deems it to be ‘negative.’ As the Supreme Court has stated, students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Poway district adopted a new policy regarding “hate behavior,” after a series of incidents including the hanging of nooses, a complaint that a Halloween costume looked liked a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and the drawing of a swastika and profanity, written in feces, on a student store window.
Supt. Don Phillips said it is meant to be clear that “intimidating (or) harassing will not be tolerated.”
A district judge earlier had ruled in the Harper case that schools have a special “interest in protecting homosexual students from harassment” because that is a “legitimate pedagogical concern.”
Such a concern, he ruled, “allows a school to restrict speech expressing damaging statements about sexual orientation and limiting students to expressing their views in a positive manner.”
Critics have worried that opens wide the door for any activist school principal or superintendent to create a range of new ways for Christian students to be denied First Amendment rights based on the content of theier speech.
Robert Tyler, who has worked for the Alliance Defense Fund on the case, said that looks like a double standard.
“Why is it acceptable to tell a student of faith their views are not as valuable as the view of any person opposing them?” he said.
Judge Alez Kozinsky, who wrote the minority opinion the last time the case was before the 9th Circuit, had concluded, “I have considerable difficulty with giving school authorities the power to decide that only one side of a controversial topic may be discussed in the school environment because the opposing point of view is too extreme or demeaning … The fundamental problem with the majority’s approach is that it has no anchor anywhere in the record or in the law. It is entirely a judicial creation, hatched to deal with the situation before us, but likely to cause innumerable problems in the future.”
The campaign calling for parents to keep their children home of the “Day of Silence” for 2008 quickly is gaining momentum.
Matt Barber, a spokesman for Concerned Women for America, said the day “amounts to educational malpractice.”
“Our schools are supposed to be places of learning, not places of political indoctrination. It is the height of impropriety and cynicism for ‘gay’ activists and school officials to use children as pawns in their attempt to further a highly controversial and polarizing political agenda,” he said.
The coalition is suggesting parents ask their school districts about “Day of Silence” plans, especially the date because some school districts vary. Then, the group said, parents should “inform the school of our intention to keep your children home on that date and explain why.”
Among the groups already promoting the protest are:
- Abiding Truth Ministries
- American Family Association
- AFA of MI
- AFA of PA
- Americans for Truth
- Christian Information Service
- Christian Civic League of Maine
- Concerned Women for America
- Culture Campaign
- Defend the Family International
- Exodus Mandate
- Illinois Family Institute
- Traditional Values Coalition
- Indiana Voice for the Family
- Informing Christians
- Liberty Counsel
- Mission America
- New Generation Christian Center
- Parents’ Rights’ Coalition
- Right March
- Stephen Bennett Ministries
- Values USA
- and Watchmen on the Walls
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