Ohio School Apparently Banning Pro-Gay-Rights T-Shirt

Here’s the shirt, as photographed by one of the students who organized this:

U.S. News & World Report reports:

The debate at Celina High School started after two female high school students celebrated the high school’s “Twin Day” last week by wearing shirts to school that read “Lesbian 1” and “Lesbian 2” on the back. They were promptly asked to remove the T-shirts, according to students there.

On Tuesday, some 20 students decided to show their support of the girls by wearing their own T-shirts to school. The shirts read: “I support…” with a photo of a rainbow. “Express yourself.”

The students say that the shirts were banned on the grounds that they were “political,” though there seems to be no policy banning political shirts, and indeed (the students say) many other students often wear political shirts. According to the article, administrators “agree the students who wore the rainbow T-shirts were asked to remove them,” but say that this is likely because the shirts were seen as “disruptive.”

Under the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) decision, public K-12 schools are indeed entitled to restrict student speech when it poses a material risk of substantially disrupting school work, and courts have generally read this as covering speech that is disruptive only because its viewpoint arouses hostility from viewers. The “heckler’s veto,” under which speech is restricted because it may lead to misconduct by listeners or viewers who disagree with it, is generally not allowed in most contexts, but it is allowed — given the Tinker substantial disruption standard — in public K-12 schools.

Still, courts generally require some serious evidence of likely disruption, and not just administrator speculation; consider, for instance, the “Jesus Was Not a Homophobe” T-shirt case. And I’m not sure that such evidence can be found here.

Moreover (assuming the U.S. News account is accurate), even if the school does have evidence that such T-shirts are likely to be substantially disruptive, that reflects quite badly on the school. If the students there haven’t been taught to react calmly to people expressing politely phrased messages such as this, then the administrators should take urgent steps to try to teach that.

Thanks to commenter Zuch for the pointer.

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