Seth Groody believed that wearing an anti-gay T-shirt to Wolcott High School last year was protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Now, Wolcott Public Schools have acknowledged that he was right. Attorney Christine L. Chinni, representing the Wolcott Public Schools, has affirmed Seth’s free speech rights in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

She wrote that “should Mr. Groody wear a shirt describing his views regarding homosexuality, including but not limited to the shirt he wore to Wolcott High School last year, he will be permitted to wear it throughout the school day.” The acknowledgement came after the ACLU of Connecticut prepared a federal complaint on Seth’s behalf and shared the draft with counsel for the Wolcott Public Schools.

“Public school students need to know that the First Amendment is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee of freedom in America that entitles them to express their views,” said Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “We commend the Wolcott school system for recognizing students’ fundamental right to free expression under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Constitution of Connecticut.”

Seth wore the T-shirt in question on April 20, 2012 to express his disagreement with the perceived message of a Day of Silence at Wolcott High School, meant to raise awareness of bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The shirt in question 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.”

Seth said he was called to the school office, where he was confronted by several school officials and the police officer assigned to the school. The principal told him he would be suspended or expelled if he refused to remove the shirt, he said. The ACLU of Connecticut wrote to school officials in June 2012, seeking assurance that Seth’s free speech rights would be respected.

“The ACLU of Connecticut disagrees very strongly with Seth’s views on same-sex marriage and gay rights, but that has no bearing on his right to express those views,” Staub said. “We’re very glad that the Wolcott Public Schools recognizes this, as well.”

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