Law & Courts

High Court Voids Ruling on Anti-Gay Shirt

By Mark Walsh — March 09, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A much-debated legal case over the right of a public school student to wear a T-shirt with a religious-based message against homosexuality appears to be fizzling amid knotty procedural issues.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week set aside a federal appeals court ruling in favor of the school district in the case. But that was because the student at its center had graduated from high school last year, and a federal district court recently declared his lawsuit moot.

See Also

The case involves Tyler Chase Harper, who as a high school student in 2004 wore a shirt with hand-lettered messages that said, “Homosexuality is shameful. Romans 1:21,” and “Be ashamed. Our school has embraced what God has condemned.” He wore the shirt the day after some students at Poway High School in the 33,000-student Poway, Calif., school district had participated in an event to show support for gay rights.

On grounds of free speech and free exercise of religion, lawyers for Mr. Harper had sought an injunction in 2004 to block school administrators from restricting the anti-gay shirt. A federal judge denied the request, and in a ruling last year that drew wide attention, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld the denial in a 2-1 ruling that emphasized that school administrators should not have to permit “verbal assaults that may destroy the self-esteem of our most vulnerable teenagers.” (“U.S. Court Backs School’s Decision to Bar Student’s Anti-Gay T-Shirt,” May 3, 2006.)

No Damages Allowed

Mr. Harper sought a rehearing before the 9th Circuit court, which was denied, and then review by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, he graduated from Poway High last year, and the school district went back to the district court to suggest that the case was moot.

On Jan. 24, U.S. District Judge John A. Houston, in San Diego, dismissed Mr. Harper as a defendant in the case because the young man had graduated. He noted that Mr. Harper’s claims for damages, which could have kept his case viable, had already been dismissed on the grounds that the school district was immune from such claims. The judge allowed Mr. Harper’s younger sister, Kelsie, to be substituted as the plaintiff, but he ruled on the merits against her claims.

The Supreme Court, ruling on the appeal of the earlier lower-court rulings, on March 5 took note of the district court’s ruling that Mr. Harper’s case was moot. It refused a request to substitute his sister in the case in the matter directly before it. And it tossed out the controversial 9th Circuit ruling in the district’s favor.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented in Harper v. Poway Unified School District (Case No. 06-595), but he didn’t give an explanation.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as High Court Voids Ruling on Anti-Gay Shirt

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Some Schools Will Get Money From Opioid Settlements—But It Won't Be Easy
Conflicts and unanswered questions stymie schools' efforts to secure a share of recent legal settlements from opioid makers.
6 min read
Pills of the painkiller hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2013.
In this 2013 file photo, hydrocodone pills—an opioid—are seen at a Vermont pharmacy. School districts are arguing that the nation's opioid crisis has directly affected them through increased costs for special education and overdose-prevention efforts.
Toby Talbot/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Asks for Biden Administration's Views on Legal Status of Charter Schools
Stemming from a suit over a North Carolina school's dress code, the issue is whether "public" charter schools act with government authority.
3 min read
Thunder storm sky over the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts West Virginia Law Barring Transgender Girls From School Sports Upheld by Federal Judge
The decision is a turnabout for the judge, who cast doubt on the law in 2021 and issued an order allowing a transgender girl to compete.
4 min read
Judge gavel on law books with statue of justice and court government background. concept of law, justice, legal.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts A Teacher Argued His MAGA Hat Was Protected Speech. Here's What a Federal Appeals Court Said
Did a principal violate a teacher's rights when she told him not to bring his Donald Trump-inspired hat to a racial-sensitivity training?
4 min read
Image of a gavel
iStock/Getty