ST PAUL, Minn. – A Minnesota teenager told he couldn't wear a sweatshirt with the words "Straight Pride" on it because it was offensive to some students at a public high school, has won a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court against the school.
In issuing the injunction, the federal judge noted that there was "a strong likelihood" that the principal of Woodbury High School near St. Paul, Minn. violated 16-year-old Elliot Chambers' constitutional rights when he forbade him from wearing the shirt, which displayed cartoon images of a man and woman holding hands on the back and featured the trademarked "Straight Pride" logo on the front.
The court said there was insufficient evidence that, as the school maintained, the presence of the shirt on campus would cause a substantial disruption of school activities. But the judge held open the possibility that the shirt could be banned in the future if the school can prove that it is a threat to order.
Chambers' parents, Kendal and Lana Chambers, said their son was back in school Friday with the shirt on, and that about a dozen of Elliot's friends were wearing similar shirts.
Elliot and his parents, along with the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy, a conservative Christian organization, sued the school after Chambers was told in January the shirt was not allowed in school because it was offensive to gay, lesbian and bisexual students. The principal told Chambers he couldn't wear the shirt "because of the recent racial violence at our school, and that it might incite straight-versus-homosexual violence," Chambers recalled.
The lawsuit argues that the school's policies are unconstitutional, both on their face and as applied against Elliot.
Officials at the school district have declined to comment on the case other than to release a statement Friday saying they accept the decision of the court. The statement said the principal was trying to maintain "an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for diversity among its students."
Some of the teachers and students said the shirt is a form of harassment that should be banned. The language makes gay or lesbian students, or those with gay or lesbian family members, uncomfortable, they said.
But members of the Chambers family have decried what they call a double standard at the school. The school attempts to foster an atmosphere of tolerance by displaying inverted pink triangles around designated "safe" areas of the school. The "safe" areas are set aside for student/teacher discussion and counseling regarding homosexuality and other non-traditional relationships.
Stephen M. Crampton, chief counsel for the American Family Center, called the injunction "a tremendous victory for student free speech and a small step toward exposing the hypocrisy of the 'tolerance' agenda.
"The court recognized that true tolerance means tolerance of all, and not only a select few," he said.