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Where do one person's rights stop and another person's begin?

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I am currently taking Media Law as part of my Communications degree(last semester before I graduate woo hoo!)  Part of our readings and films have been largely based on First Amendment rights and landmark cases that have gotten us to where we are today. 

The case of Chase Harper stood out at me...With sharply divided opinions among its three judges, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling striking down a California student's right to wear a t-shirt opposing homosexuality.

In April 2004, Tyler Chase Harper, a student at Poway High School near San Diego, Calif., wore shirts to school on two days bearing separate messages: "I will not accept what God has condemned" and "Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned." On the back of the shirts were handwritten: "Homosexuality is shameful, 'Romans 1:27.'"

On the second day, school administration requested Harper change his shirt. The student refused. Consequently, Harper spent the rest of the day in the school's front office versus being suspended as the student requested.

Harper, through his parents, filed a lawsuit on June 2, 2004 against Poway Unified School District and specific school officials, alleging a breach of his right to free speech, free exercise of religion, the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause. On July 12, 2004, Harper filed a preliminary injunction against the school to stop the "continuing violation" of his constitutional rights.

In his dissenting opinion against the majority decision, Judge Alexander Kozinski drew attention to the fact that the student "did not thrust his view of homosexuality into the school environment as a part of a campaign to demean or embarrass other students. Rather, he was responding to public statements made by others with whom he disagreed."

My question is... Does Chase Harper have the right to wear this shirt?  One Attorney in the film Shouting Fire:Stories from the Edge of Free Speech made a comment that keeps turning over in my mind... "We as a people are guaranteed the right to free speech.  We are not however promised the right to not be offended."

What do you think?

by on Feb. 22, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Replies (21-30):
by on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:30 AM

That is actually what the film I watched was titled and happened to cover this case.

I have actually read a lot of material and watched several films in this course that I think more people need to see.  Too many people do not understand the First Amendment.

Quoting joey125:

There's a saying about free speech,  free speech doesn't allow you to yell fire in a crowded movie theatre, that's what this post reminded me of.

by Thatwoman on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:34 AM
1 mom liked this

Actually he does have the right to wear the shirt.

And the school has the right to ban his entry if he insists on wearing it.

by on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:37 AM
Gotta think about this.
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by Ruby Member on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:40 AM

Technically, I would be incline to say "yes" due to his freedom of speech.  Due to the fact that I am too lazy to research this myself, did the school/district have a dress code pertaining to "offensive clothing?"

by Silver Member on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:41 AM

I remembered the saying, and knew it had something to do with free speech, I looked it up it came from Justice Oliver Wendell Homes in the 1800 s    thought it was interesting.

by on Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:52 AM

the shirt itself was fine...when he added the handwritten message on the back - that crossed a line, because he was calling out a certain group of people, and that is a message of hate....had the shirt been left as is, without the writing....then I doubt there would have been a problem.

It goes along with schools banning gang colors worn...colors themselves are benign, but wearing them a certian way is a clear message.

by Ruby Member on Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:17 AM

I think people should have the right to say (or wear in this case) whatever they want. But they do need to be aware oof the backlash that will come.

by Ruby Member on Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:33 AM
1 mom liked this

Students in school do not have free speech rights like everyone else.  It's kind of like going to a job.  You can't wear that type of shirt to a job, because it could be harassing a co-worker whose right to a non-hostile work environment is just as important as free speech rights.  

He can wear it out of school and no one could tell him he couldn't.  In school, since students are required to be there, the shirt is not acceptable.  Same reason schools have dress codes.  

by on Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:46 AM
1 mom liked this

Your post doesn't provide the reasons the court ruled as they did nor does it speak to why the ruling was upheld but various other courts.  

It was ruled that the shirts violated the school dress code and interfered with other students rights to education and the shirt created such a distraction.  

by Jenn on Feb. 22, 2012 at 9:49 AM

 You already quoted my favorite line..... We do NOT have the right to not be offended.  He should be able to wear the shirt, horrible as it is.

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