ACLU Case No. 2010-22
UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after we sent the letter, Kate called to tell us school officials have told her she can wear her shirt!
Hear Kate talk about the ACLU's help with her fight for free speech in this video from our membership meeting.
In a letter to school administrators sent yesterday, the ACLU demanded that Falcon High School rescind its prohibition against a student wearing a t-shirt that reads: “marriage is so gay.” Kate Cohn, a senior at Falcon High School, just east of Colorado Springs, wore the t-shirt to school on Election Day, November 2, 2010. Although her shirt caused no disturbance amongst students during her first class that morning, Falcon High School Principal Mark Carara viewed the shirt and immediately told Kate that she had to change it because it was offensive and violated the school’s dress code banning apparel that is potentially disruptive to the academic environment.
Later in the day, while speaking with Kate’s parents, Principal Carara explained his ban of Kate’s t-shirt by comparing the shirt to apparel that promotes drug or alcohol use. Administrators at District 49 have publicly ratified Principal Carara’s decision to ban Kate’ shirt.
“This is censorship plain and simple,” said Rebecca T. Wallace, Staff Attorney for the ACLU. “Falcon High School administrators are censoring Kate Cohn’s message of equality simply because they did not like what she has to say, but the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees students like Kate Cohn the right to peacefully and quietly display their political message, even when that message is unpopular. This is particularly true when there is no evidence that Kate’s shirt caused or was likely to cause a disturbance within the school.”
While the message on Kate’s t-shirt elicited little response from students, the school’s silencing of Kate’s speech has caused quite a disruption. In a recent protest at school, several students donned sticky notes over their heart stating: “I support Kate Cohn” or “I do not support gay marriage, but I support Kate Cohn.” Additionally, 81 students have signed a letter protesting the school’s silencing of Kate’s message.
According to the ACLU’s letter, Kate wore the “marriage is so gay” t-shirt to make a silent, peaceful, political statement in support of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. “Every day that passes during which Falcon High School forbids Kate to speak on this issue of great political import that rests close to her heart, Kate suffers a significant loss of her First Amendment freedoms,” explains Wallace. The ACLU has demanded that Falcon High School rescind its ban of Kate’s message by the end of this week.
Rebecca Wallace , ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney
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