The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Freedom of Speech Gets Schooled

By Amanda Dickman in News on Mar 22, 2007 7:20PM

Naperville high-school student Heidi Zamecnik is suing her school for what she claims was a violation of her civil right to freely express her moral opposition to homosexuality. Last April she wore a shirt to school that read "Be Happy, Not Gay." The shirt was worn the day after the school held a Day of Silence, where students can choose to remain silent all day in protest of discrimination against homosexuality.

freespeech.jpgZamecnik was asked by a dean of students to remove the shirt, and after she refused, a counselor was ordered to mark out the "not gay" portion. Along with her parents, she tried to discuss the situation with the school, but they denied her request to wear a similar shirt again this April, after the Day of Silence. Hello, lawsuit.

Freedom of speech is a topic full of land mines that Chicagoist isn't going to touch (today) with a ten-foot pole, but this story has an added complication of involving students who are under the "jurisdiction" of the schools they attend. In similar cases, like the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner and the girls who said "vagina," the issue becomes more focused on the when/where/why/how of a school's power to regulate the freedom of speech of its students.

How these cases play out legally will obviously set a precedent for such situations in the future, but does anyone really win here? If schools are given the power to curb personal expression, how far will it go? Will kids be able to speak out about anything? On the other hand, if it swings to the student side, would this allow any Tom, Dick, or Harry to express themselves however they see fit, be it constructive, hurtful or disruptive?

It's a tightrope walk that will, hopefully, find the right balance.

Image via Got Free Speech?