7th Circuit backs students’ right to wear ‘Be Happy, Not Gay’ shirt

Thursday, March 3, 2011

CHICAGO — A federal appeals court has upheld the rights of suburban Chicago students to wear T-shirts with the words “Be Happy, Not Gay.”

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' March 1 ruling involves a dispute at Neuqua Valley High School. Alexander Nuxoll, who was banned from wearing the shirt to school, and Heidi Zamecnik, who wore a similar T-shirt to school in 2006, filed a lawsuit saying their free-speech rights had been violated. Both students have since graduated.

School officials blacked out the words “Not Gay” on Zamecnik’s T-shirt. The incident happened the day after a “Day of Silence,” which was held to draw attention to the harassment of gay students.

The unanimous three-judge panel said in Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 that a school which “permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.”

The panel said the school failed to prove the shirt caused a “substantial disruption” and that “Be Happy, Not Gay” is not an instance of fighting words.

The president of the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 board declined to comment on the ruling.

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