A sceen shot from the ACLU video. Credit: ACLU.
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, decided 40 years ago this month, upheld the First Amendment right of Des Moines students to wear armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. Writing for the court in a 7-2 decision, Justice Abe Fortas said, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights … at the schoolhouse gate.”
It is with this ruling that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) repeatedly and successfully has been able to stop schools from illegally censoring students – often lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies.
But a new video released by the ACLU to commemorate the Tinker decision, shows that censorship remains commonplace.
The video, available at www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/38778res20090224.html, features the case, Gillman v. Holmes County School District, and the struggle of students against a school ban on wearing any kind of rainbow symbol.
It includes a videotaped deposition of David Davis, principal of Ponce de Leon High School in the Florida city of the same name, who testified that he banned students from wearing any form of a rainbow because, he said, it symbolizes “gay pride” and “could hinder the educational process.”
Students said school administrators routinely intimidated them when they wore symbols or messages the administrators deemed pro-gay. Testifying at trial, Davis said he believed clothing or stickers featuring rainbows would make students automatically picture gay people having sex.
A federal judge ruled in May that the school had violated the students’ First Amendment rights.
“Schools need to know censorship is illegal, and students need to know their schools can’t get away with it,” Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s national LGBT Project, said in a statement.
Contact: ACLU, (212) 549-2666, www.aclu.org.