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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
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
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

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 Oxford School Shooter's Parents Were Convicted. Holding District Liable Could Be Tougher
The conviction of parents in the Oxford, Mich., case expanded the scope of responsibility, but it remains difficult to hold schools liable.
12 min read
Four roses are placed on a fence to honor Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17, the four teens killed in last week's shooting, outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
Four roses are placed on a fence outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., honor Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17, the four teens killed in the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting at the school.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Law & Courts Oklahoma Supreme Court Weighs 'Test Case' Over the Nation's First Religious Charter School
The state attorney general says the Catholic-based school is not permitted under state law, while supporters cite U.S. Supreme Court cases.
5 min read
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, during an interview in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, pictured in February, argued April 2 before the state supreme court against the nation's first religious charter school.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Law & Courts When Blocking Social Media Critics, School Officials Have Protections, Supreme Court Says
The court said public officials' own pages may be "state action," but only when they are exercising government authority.
6 min read
An American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 2, 2020.
An American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 2, 2020.
Patrick Semansky/AP
Law & Courts Oklahoma Nonbinary Student's Death Shines a Light on Families' Legal Recourse for Bullying
Students facing bullying and harassment from their peers face legal roadblocks in suing districts, but settlements appear to be on the rise
11 min read
A photograph of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died a day after a fight in a high school bathroom, is projected during a candlelight service at Point A Gallery, on Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Federal officials will investigate the Oklahoma school district where Benedict died, according to a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education on March 1, 2024.
A photograph of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died a day after a fight in a high school restroom, is projected during a candlelight service at Point A Gallery, on Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Federal officials will investigate the Oklahoma school district where Benedict died, according to a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education on March 1, 2024.
Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP