A Chicago high school has decided to allow a small group of students to wear "Straight Pride" T-shirts, despite resistance from other students who say they found the clothing offensive on a week that the school was bringing attention to the bullying of gays, lesbians and transgenders.
A spokesman for St. Charles North High School says the decision was intended to be an educational moment.
“Considering they’re teenagers and becoming more socially aware, we need to do our job as educators,” Director of School and Community Relations Jim Blaney told FoxNews.com. “We need to help students find their way through this new world.”
The controversy started on Monday when the high school began “Ally Week," a program in which students demonstrate their alliance against the bullying of gay students. Three students came to school wearing "Straight Pride" T-shirts bearing the Bible quotation, "If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH," which appears in Leviticus 20:13.
Several students complained, and the “administration had to determine if the students were posing physical or emotional threats, and that wasn’t the case,” Blaney said. “The discussion they had was that, while you certainly have a right to express your opinion via a T-shirt, please understand that your message can be perceived as hurtful.”
The students agreed to cross out the message with a permanent marker, but when two different students came to school the next day with homemade “Straight Pride” shirts without the Bible quotation, they were asked to cover them with sweatshirts.
Although the two students complied with the request, they said they weren’t satisfied with how their free speech rights were being treated.
"I was shocked," Jake Pezzuto, a senior, told the Daily Herald. "There is clearly a double standard here, and we're really upset about this.
"They said the reason we can't wear 'Straight Pride' shirts is because they are disruptive. And I can understand how maybe some people were intimidated by the shirts with the Bible verse. But I don't understand how some students are able to wear 'Gay Pride' shirts while we can't wear shirts that just say 'Straight Pride.'"
The incident also sparked a controversy among St. Charles students on the other side, including Amanda Harshbarger, who started a Facebook group titled “SCN Students Against Bullying” to get students to express their thoughts on the matter.
"That's where the bad feelings started, because they chose to wear the shirts on a day specifically about gay teen suicide," Harshbarger told the Daily Herald. "What the shirts said were making kids feel violated and intimidated."
Harshbarger was joined by more than 150 students in the group, who all plan to meet with the Board of Education in December to discuss future action plans for these situations.
Despite the reaction among students, Blaney says the school never considered harsher disciplinary action for the five students.
“Discipline is the last thing we do when dealing with students,” Blaney said. “While you certainly have your rights to free speech, you also need to know that with that right, comes responsibility.”
“The important thing is, even if someone is on the opposite side, you need to respect their opinion.”