- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007


A few classmates razzed Rebekah Rice about her Mormon upbringing with questions such as,

“Do you have 10 moms?” and she shot back: “That’s so gay.”

Those three words landed the high school freshman in the principal’s office and resulted in a lawsuit that raises this question: When do playground insults used every day all over America cross the line into hate speech that must be stamped out?

After Miss Rice got a warning and a notation in her file, her parents sued, claiming officials at Santa Rosa’s Maria Carillo High violated their daughter’s First Amendment rights when they disciplined her for uttering a phrase “which enjoys widespread currency in youth culture,” according to court documents.

Testifying about the 2002 incident, Miss Rice, now 18, said that when she uttered those words, she was not referring to anyone’s sexual orientation. She said the phrase meant: “That’s so stupid, that’s so silly, that’s so dumb.”

But school officials say they took a strict stand against the putdown after two boys were paid to beat up a homosexual student in the previous school year.

“The district has a statutory duty to protect gay students from harassment,” the district’s lawyers argued in a legal brief. “In furtherance of this goal, prohibition of the phrase ‘That’s so gay’ … was a reasonable regulation.”

Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing plans to issue a ruling in the nonjury trial after final written arguments are submitted in April. Her gag order prevents the two sides from discussing the case.

Rick Ayers, a retired teacher who helped compile and publish the “Berkeley High School Slang Dictionary,” a compendium of trendy teen talk circa 2001, said educating students about offensive language is preferable to policing their speech. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this girl didn’t even know the origin of that term,” he said.

Miss Rice’s parents, Elden and Katherine Rice, also claim the public high school employed a double standard because, they say, administrators never sought to shield Rebekah from teasing based on Mormon stereotypes.

In addition, the Rices say their daughter was singled out because of the family’s traditional views on sexuality. They are seeking unspecified damages and want the disciplinary notation expunged from Rebekah’s school record.

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