Court says Neuqua student can wear anti-gay T-shirt

Published: 4/24/2008 4:14 PM | Updated: 4/24/2008 6:31 PM

Neuqua Valley sophomore Alex Nuxoll is free to wear his "Be Happy, Not Gay" T-shirt at the Naperville high school.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit this week reversed a lower court's ruling against Nuxoll. The appeals court said the phrase was not "derogatory" or "demeaning" as school administrators had determined in 2006.

As a result of Wednesday's decision, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 must suspend its ban on the T-shirt while Nuxoll's federal lawsuit against the district continues.

Nuxoll and Neuqua graduate Heidi Zamecnik filed the suit in March 2007, saying the district violated their right to free speech by not allowing them to wear anti-gay T-shirts to school. The two students said they believe homosexuality is immoral according to their religious beliefs.

Both plaintiffs are represented by the Memphis-based Alliance Defense Fund and both referred calls on the case to that group's attorneys.

"Christian students shouldn't be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs," alliance attorney Nate Kellum said. "Public school officials cannot censor a message expressing one viewpoint on homosexual behavior and then at the same time allow messages that express another viewpoint.

"The court's ruling is a victory for all students seeking to protect their First Amendment rights on a school campus."

Kellum said Nuxoll "desires to express his perspective at various times throughout the year," including next Monday's "Day of Truth," which follows Friday's "Day of Silence."

Other students at the school are permitted to wear shirts with messages supporting homosexual behavior as part of the "Day of Silence," which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.

School district attorney Jack Canna said Thursday administrators are disappointed the slogan will be allowed but pleased the court enforced District 204's policy prohibiting offensive and derogatory speech.

"We respect the very narrow ruling by the court and are prepared to let (Nuxoll wear the shirt)," Canna said. "This isn't all bad in that the ruling is specifically limited to that phrase but it doesn't allow other derogatory speech. That's pretty important."

Alliance attorney Jonathan Scruggs said he believes Wednesday's ruling is a foreshadowing of things to come in the federal lawsuit.

"We've certainly got plenty of work to do, but we've got to believe this lays the framework for the future of our case," he said.

Canna also is looking forward to the case getting under way.

"We're certainly awaiting and welcoming the opportunity to present the evidence about why the action was taken and why the district believed the shirt had a negative impact on students and the educational system," he said. "We've yet to have an evidentiary hearing or testimony or anything."

No dates have been set for the lawsuit to move forward.