Appeals Court: Naperville Teen Can Wear Anti-Gay Shirt To School
In 2006, Naperville's Neuqua Valley High School allowed students to participate in a nationwide "Day of Silence," which promotes tolerance of the gay community. While some students decided to wear shirts that expressed that tolerance, one student showed up in a shirt that read: "Be Happy, Not Gay."
School administrators demanded the student, 17-year-old Heidi Zamecnik, either remove the shirt or be sent home for the day, according to the Naperville Sun. The school ultimately settled on blacking out the "Not Gay" portion of the shirt, leaving it to read "Be Happy."
Zamecnik, however, was not pleased with the change. After the incident, she filed a lawsuit against the school district claiming they violated her civil rights by not allowing her to express her opposition to homosexuality.
"Pursuant of her earnest religious convictions, Heidi sought a way to communicate her belief that homosexual conduct doesn't lead to happiness," Zamecnik's lawyer Nate Kellum told MTV when the suit was filed in 2007. "She wanted to wear a T-shirt communicating that idea."
On Tuesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Kellum.
In its opinion, the court said a "school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality."
"The school argued (and still argues) that banning 'Be Happy, Not Gay' was just a matter of protecting the 'rights' of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed," the court said. "But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life."
Zamecnik was represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a brief on the student's behalf that said her 1st Amendment rights had been violated , according to the Chicago Tribune.
In the opinion, the judge writes that the defense provided "no indication" of how the shirt would negatively effect homosexual students . Read the opinion here.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story indicated that the ACLU filed an opposing brief in the case. In fact, they sided with the student citing a 1st Amendment rights violation. We apologize for the error.