- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

A Minnesota high school violated a student's constitutional rights last year when the principal ordered him not to wear a sweat shirt emblazoned with the words "Straight Pride," a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank ruled that the school's dress code that prohibited the wearing of items with unacceptable writing or graphic depictions that offended anyone was unconstitutional when it was applied to the student, Elliott Chambers.
Although the judge noted there were cases when a school could prohibit student expression ordinarily protected by the Constitution, Judge Frank said school officials did not show enough evidence that Elliott's sweat shirt could disrupt school activities.
Besides the "Straight Pride" phrase, the sweat shirt had a picture of a stick man and woman holding hands drawn on the back of it.
"Maintaining a school community of tolerance includes the tolerance of such viewpoints, as expressed by 'Straight Pride,'" the judge wrote in his 10-page decision. "While the sentiment behind the 'Straight Pride' message appears to be one of intolerance, the responsibility remains with the school and its community to maintain an environment open to diversity and to educate and support its students as they confront ideas different from their own."
The 16-year-old student, who attends Woodbury High School in St. Paul, was ordered by his principal, Dana Babbitt, not to wear the sweat shirt on Jan. 17, 2001, after a girl, representing several homosexual students, told a school administrator she found the sweat shirt offensive.
Elliott and his parents sued the school district, claiming the school's disciplinary action against Elliott constituted viewpoint discrimination and that the school's display of inverted pink triangles the universal symbol of homosexual pride promoted homosexuality.
The school designates certain classrooms as "safe zones" for homosexual students and prides itself on its inclusiveness. Teachers participating in the safe-zones program hang large posters, each with an inverted pink triangle and the words "safe zone."
"We are pleased that Elliott's rights have been vindicated," said Stephen M. Crampton, chief counsel of the American Family Association for Law & Policy, which represented Elliott and his parents in the lawsuit. "But we are disappointed at the hypocrisy of posting the gay pride symbols throughout the school and then censoring the 'straight pride' message."
In his ruling, the judge rejected the Chamberses' arguments that the school was promoting homosexuality. Instead, the judge applauded the principal's actions to "create a positive social and learning environment" at the school.
Scott Ballou, an attorney who represented the school district and the school's principal, said yesterday the school district settled the case with the Chamberses, mostly in part because the judge already had prevented the school from enforcing its dress-code policy in the case last spring.
Mr. Ballou said the school will rewrite its dress-code policy to make sure it is consistent with the Constitution.
"We're disappointed that the judge issued the injunction, but we're pleased that the judge found that the school was not in any way promoting homosexuality [by allowing safe zones in the school]," he said.
Homosexual-rights groups said yesterday they didn't know whether the ruling was a victory for anyone.
"Whether this is a victory or not, it goes back to the student's motivation for wearing the sweat shirt," said Wayne Besen, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual-rights organization in Washington.
"If the student was wearing the sweat shirt because he was proud of who he was, then all the power to him," Mr. Besen said. "But if he was wearing it to purposefully promote intolerance, then this ruling wouldn't be a victory for anyone."

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