Students, Teachers at Calif. School Think an Anti-Gay Sticker Can Bully People

Your rights end where their feelings begin.



It seems that a group of students in schools in Indio, a desert community in Southern California, have decided to register their objection to gay issues or gay people or all things gay by wearing a sticker with a rainbow crossed out with the international red "No" symbol.

This has resulted in complaints and news stories, obviously. The CBS affiliate in Los Angeles will immediately make anybody who grasps the First Amendment sigh sadly with a headline and lede that asks, "Hate speech of free speech?"

These are, at least in the United States, at least for the time being, the same thing. Hate speech is free speech.

The good news is that school administrators made the correct choice: The anti-gay kids can keep their stickers. Of course, they made sure to consult with their legal folks to have the First Amendment explained to them. From CBS Los Angeles:

In an email sent to staff Wednesday, Desert Sands Unified School District administrators wrote, "After consulting with district level personnel and our legal counsel, it was determined that these students do have the protected right to freedom of speech, just as students portraying rainbows in support of the LGBT would."

The school district said that if the stickers led to actual verbal or physical harassment, that would be going too far.

"Every person can have an opinion, but if there's harassment or bullying then it does cross the line," DSUSD Assistant Superintendent Laura Fisher told KESQ.

School districts have broad (arguably too broad) authority to censor speech in schools under a Supreme Court decision if the officials can prove that speech, whether verbal or symbolic, is disruptive to the education process. Schools have attempted to use this decision in the past to try to intervene and block representation of both gay-supportive speech and anti-gay speech in schools. The American Civil Liberties Union has separately defended students on both sides of the debate.

The bad news is the absolutely sorry grasp of free speech by both students and at least one teacher at Shadow Hills High School. According to teacher David Parsons, apparently speech becomes bullying and harassment once a person who doesn't agree with it is exposed to it (via KESQ in Palm Springs):

Teachers at Shadow Hills tell us they believe it crossed the line. 

"When someone takes a sticker and puts it in front of the face in front of somebody else, then that bounces from the realm of free speech into harassment or bullying," said Parsons.

In case you're wondering where on earth college students are getting such absurd and inaccurate conceptions of what free speech actually is, there you go.