The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has sent a letter to the principal of Wolcott High School on behalf of junior Seth Groody, who said he was required to remove a T-shirt bearing an anti-gay message.
This type of censorship violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article First, Sections 4 and 5, of the Constitution of Connecticut. The letter asks for written assurance from school officials that all students will be permitted to wear shirts bearing the same message or similar ones in the future.
Seth wore the T-shirt on Friday, April 20, 2012, which was designated a Day of Silence at Wolcott High School as part of a national movement to raise awareness of bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. One side of the shirt depicted a rainbow - the commonly recognized symbol of gay rights - with a slash through it. The other side showed a male stick figure and a female stick figure holding hands above the legend, "Excessive Speech Day." According to Seth, he was ordered to remove the T-shirt and did so under protest.
Seth intended the shirt to express his dislike for gay marriage and his opposition to the school's perceived message during the Day of Silence. It was a statement of opinion that school officials and other students might disagree with but that would not substantially interfere with the operation of the school or invade anyone's rights. The issue is strikingly similar to the case of Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School Dist. No. 204 in which the Seventh Circuit Court unanimously upheld a student's First Amendment right to wear a T-shirt that said "Be Happy, Not Gay." A school official had inked out the phrase "Not Gay," claiming that it breached a school rule against various kinds of comments considered to be derogatory.
"The First Amendment was written to protect unpopular speech, which is naturally the kind of speech that will always need protection," said Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "The ACLU has fought hard for same-sex marriage and we couldn't agree with Seth less on that issue, but he is absolutely correct about his right to express his opinion.
"The impulse to suppress ideas that we find unpleasant is antithetical to freedom and democracy. That's why the ACLU of Ohio stood up in 2006 for the rights of students to wear T-shirts supporting same-sex marriage and the ACLU of Connecticut must stand up in 2012 for the rights of students to express the opposite sentiment."
WATR: Talk of the Town interview with Sandra Staub
CTNewsJunkie: ACLU Comes To Defense of Wolcott Teen
Associated Press: ACLU: Wolcott High School Wrong To Outlaw Anti-Gay Shirt