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Student told: 'Leave your faith in the car'

A federal civil-rights lawsuit was filed yesterday on behalf of a Southern California high-school student who was punished for wearing a T-shirt expressing his opposition to homosexuality on a day set aside to honor the alternate lifestyle.

The Alliance Defense Fund, the legal group representing Poway High School student Chase Harper, said in a statement the young man’s free-speech and religious rights were violated in April when he was suspended from school for one day for wearing the homemade T-shirt. According to the suit, a school administrator told the student: “Leave your faith in the car” when your beliefs might offend others.

“In this age of alleged tolerance, such a statement is disappointing, to put it mildly,” said Robert Tyler, counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund. “Public school students don’t surrender their First Amendment rights when they enter the building. When are public school officials going to learn they are not allowed to silence constitutionally protected student speech just because they disagree with the student? This is unconstitutional suppression of speech and an illegal suspension from school.”

According to the complaint, Harper was pulled out of class in the morning and held in a small office for the day. His parents were finally called at the end of the school day, ADF says. Before his release, the student was questioned by a deputy sheriff, who took pictures of him and the shirt.

Harper, 16, a student in the Poway Unified School District, had hand-lettered the front of his shirt to read: “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned.” The back of the shirt read: “Homosexuality is Shameful” and “Romans 1:27.”

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.”

Harper wore his shirt on April 22, the “Day of Silence” sponsored by the school district’s “Gay-Straight Alliance.”