Some teachers and students at an Indio, California, high school campus are calling the emergence and display of anti-gay stickers acts of hate speech, further igniting a heated debate over the First Amendment.
The stickers, which do not contain words but show a rainbow inside of a circle with a line drawn through it, have been showing up on a few students’ school badges over the last two weeks at Shadow Hills High School, and have also been posted to social media, KCAL-TV reported.
So far, administrators have said that students have a right to display these stickers, just as LGBTQ students have the same right to display pro-gay stickers of their choosing.
“After consulting with district level personnel and our legal counsel, it was determined that these students do have the protected right to freedom of speech, just as students portraying rainbows in support of the LGBT would,” Desert Sands Unified School District administrators wrote in an email to staff last week.
But that didn’t come without a warning that the stickers would be problematic if they led to physical or verbal harassment, with officials warning that the students displaying them should not disrupt class; doing so would come with a penalty.
“We all have a right to freedom of speech, but students also have a right to be educated without fear,” the email read. “This has always been our policy, and we will continue to enforce it.”
Some, though, aren’t happy that the stickers are being permitted, with AP U.S. history teacher Amy Oberman telling the Desert Sun that she believes that the stickers constitute a hate crime, as one was reportedly placed on the window of the classroom for the coordinator of the Gay-Straight Alliance on campus.
“Yes, there is freedom of speech established by Tinker, but at least in my view, it’s a hate crime because a group was targeted,” she said. “I’m Jewish, and if that had been a little swastika on my window, what’s the difference?”
Oberman was referring to Tinker v. Des Moines, a 1969 Supreme Court case that ruled that students retain constitutional rights even when they are inside of a school.
At least one student has also spoken out to media, with senior Michelle Bachman, vice-president of the Gay Straight Alliance, saying that she believes that the anti-gay stickers cross the line.
“This group of students was publicly displaying an intolerance and hate for the LGBT community when a large portion of our students at SHHS are part of the community or close to people a part of it as well,” she told the Desert Sun in a private Twitter message. “This is definitely hate speech, but legally, we can’t do anything until these students start to physically harass us, which I believe is an injustice.”
Other students responded by putting stickers on their IDs that are favorable of the gay and lesbian community.
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