Earlier this week, 20 students at Celina High School were told to remove T-shirts featuring a pro-gay design. The students say they were initially told they can’t wear the T-shirts because they contain a political message, though the school’s superintendent, Jesse Steiner, later said students were asked to remove their T-shirts because they were disruptive.
Celina HIgh School’s dress code policy does not ban political clothing, but it does ban anything that might “disrupt the education program.”
Now the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sent the high school a letter urging administrators to reconsider their ban on the pro-gay clothing, calling it a suppression of free speech. It also says the excuse for telling the students to change their clothing was a “heckler’s veto.”
In a press release sent out earlier today, the ACLU wrote:
“Schools should be a place where students are free to express their beliefs,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “None of these young people acted inappropriately, and only wished to express their support for all members of their community. Expressing their views did not disrupt the learning environment, but now the administration’s unconstitutional overreaction has.”
The students have been successful in getting their story out, especially via the website Reddit, where a post about the incident has gone viral. In the post, students describe classmates who wear political T-shirts with messages supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney or opposing abortion.
The kids who wore the pro-gay T-shirts to school were doing it as a sign of support for friends who had been told to change their own shirts the previous week. That was directed at a pair of girls who, for Twins Day, wore shirts that read “Lesbian 1″ and “Lesbian 2.”
U.S. News and World Report points out that if the case were to go to court, legal precedent would be on the side of the students and the ACLU. Just last year, another Ohio student won a court case and $20,000 against Wayne Local Schools, which had threatened to discipline him for wearing a T-shirt with a rainbow fish on it that read, “Jesus is not a homophobe.”