Chambers v. Babbitt, 145 F. Supp. 2d 1068 (District of Minn. 2001)
On January 16, 2001, Elliot Chambers, a student at Woodbury High School, attended classes wearing a sweatshirt with the words "Straight Pride" and a symbol of a man and woman holding hands. Administrators were notified that certain students were offended by this message. The principal informed Chambers he was not to wear the shirt again.
Chambers sued, asking that the order by Principal Babbitt be declared unconstitutional and that he be allowed to wear his sweatshirt to school while the case was being litigated. The school responded by pointing to several fights and an incident of vandalism to a gay student's car on school grounds as evidence that the shirt and its message created a substantial disruption to the educational environment.
Whether school officials may prohibit a student from wearing a shirt emblazoned with a political message other students find offensive.
In his ruling, Judge Donovan W. Frank held that unless the school has a reasonable belief that the message will materially and substantially interfere with the work of the school, it cannot censor a message on a shirt merely because other students find it offensive.
The court found that the Tinker standard requires the substantial disruptions claimed by the school to have some nexus to the student speech in question. The court granted Chambers' request for a preliminary injunction, though left open the possibility that the school could provide evidence that the "Straight Pride" sweatshirt actually caused the substantial disruption required by the Tinker standard.
"Maintaining a school community of tolerance includes the tolerance of such viewpoints as expressed by 'Straight Pride.' While the sentiment behind the 'Straight Pride' message appears to be one of intolerance, the responsibility remains with the school and its community to maintain an environment open to diversity and to educate and support its students as they confront ideas different from their own. The Court does not disregard the laudable intention of Principal Babbitt to create a positive social and learning environment by his decision, however, the constitutional implications and the difficult but rewarding educational opportunity created by such diversity of viewpoint are equally as important and must prevail under the circumstances."
Monday, December 9, 2013 | 10:22:06