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Student sues school district after protest against homosexuality emphasis is rebuffed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A pro-family group filed suit in federal court June 2 on behalf of a California high school student who was suspended for wearing an anti-homosexuality T-shirt and allegedly told to leave his faith “in the car.”

The Alliance Defense Fund filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Chase Harper, a sophomore in the San Diego-area Poway Unified School District. The lawsuit claims that Harper’s religious freedoms were violated when he was suspended for refusing to change out of a homemade T-shirt that on the front read, “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned,” and on the back read, “Homosexuality is Shameful” and “Romans 1:27.”

Harper wore the T-shirt in April in protest of the Day of Silence, a homosexual-themed event that the ADF claims was school-sponsored. Nationally, the Day of Silence is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which says that some 300,000 students participated in the event this year.

“This is, I believe, the epitome of the cultural battle that we face as Christians — even within the church,” Alliance Defense Fund attorney Robert Tyler told Baptist Press.

The Day of Silence, according to a GLSEN press release, is “an annual, national student-led effort in which participants take a vow of silence to peacefully protest the discrimination and harassment faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in schools.”

Tyler said he believes the event was school-sponsored in conjunction with a student Gay-Straight Alliance.

“In fact, there is an administrator who was involved in organizing this National Day of Silence,” he said.

The school district released a statement June 3, saying that its lawyers had received the lawsuit and that it “would be premature and inappropriate to comment until that review has been completed.”

Harper was counseled by professing Christians at the school to change out of the T-shirt, Tyler said. A vice principal, Tyler said, even told Harper: “When I come to school, I leave my faith in the car, and you should leave your faith in the car when it might offend others.”

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has made “great strides” in getting its message into schools nationwide by encouraging them to “promote their concept of tolerance,” Tyler said.

“[But] the tolerance being pushed is not a tolerance for viewpoints opposed to homosexuality,” he said. “In fact, it is intolerant…. If you don’t agree with homosexuality, then your viewpoint is not accepted.”

The school’s action violated Harper’s constitutionally protected freedom of religion, Tyler said, because Harper has a “religious viewpoint that … homosexuality is not acceptable.”

A dress code, Tyler said, was not mentioned as to the reason behind Harper’s suspension.

“Initially, they told Chase that his T-shirt was in violation of school policy because it was homemade,” Tyler said. “But later the principal said, ‘It wouldn’t have mattered whether it was homemade or not. It’s your viewpoint that you’re expressing on your T-shirt that is offensive and inflammatory.’”

Tyler said he was disappointed that Christian students at the school failed to side with Harper.

“It appeared that all of these Christians were willing to just give up their religious liberty and were willing to compromise to some extent in the guise of tolerance,” he said.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern California, is Harper v. Poway.

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  • Michael Foust