If you’re a high school, what’s the best way to demonstrate tolerance? If you said that the best way to be tolerant is to shut up those who disagree with you, you might already be qualified to be principal of Wolcott High School in Wolcott, Conn.
In April, Wolcott High set aside a “day of silence” to promote tolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and “transgendered” people. Student Seth Groody is opposed to gay marriage and didn’t like the school’s promotion of a specific point of view.
So Seth wore a t-shirt with a slash through a rainbow to express his disagreement. (The picture of the front of the shirt was provided by the family.) On the back of the shirt was a graphic with stick figures of a male and female, along with the words, “Excessive Speech Day.”
That’s all he did. He didn’t bully anybody. He didn’t disrupt classes. He didn’t hold protests. He merely had the gall to have a belief that was contrary to what the school wanted him to believe.
“Tolerant” school officials sent Seth to the office, forced him to remove his t-shirt and forced him to wear another shirt instead. In other words, they suppressed speech they didn’t like — in the name of tolerance.
Seth’s family contacted the Connecticut ACLU, which has contacted the school (PDF) to ask for assurance that this won’t happen again. The group’s legal director makes it clear the ACLU disagrees with Seth’s position about gays, but defends his right to express his opinion.
“The First Amendment was written to protect unpopular speech, which is naturally the kind of speech that will always need protection,” Staub said. “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.”
It seems that the legal case is very clear. A school promoting a point of view about a social issue can’t stop a student from expressing his disagreement. The thing that’s frightening is that the case even has to be made.
Most people say they believe in freedom, but when it comes right down to specifics, it appears that most of them simply believe in people having the right to agree with them. I see hypocrisy from most every political group about this at one time or another. It’s not just social liberals or social conservatives. It’s almost everyone.
I don’t see any reason for a school to insert itself into a social issue in the first place, especially since it destroyed effective student participation for the day from the “day of silence” kids — who were allowed to wear tape over their mouths all day. I also don’t see any legal or moral justification for a school to ban a message from someone who disagrees with the popular or accepted opinion.
This issue has nothing to do with accepting gays as human beings and treating them just as anybody else would be treated. The issue is about a government agency dictating what opinion someone is allowed to express.
Official suppression of speech is wrong, even if you hate the point of view being expressed. I’m glad the family is fighting back, and I’m very pleased that the people at the ACLU are taking this position in favor of freedom instead of taking the position that would have been easier and more politically convenient for them to take.