Home > Uncategorized > Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 3

Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 3

This segment of Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech tells about the experience of a San Diego High School student Chase Harper in 2004.  He worse a shirt to school that said “Homosexuality is Shameful” with a biblical citation.  Later on, during the LGBT-made event Day of Silence, he wore a stronger shirt that claims what the school is supporting is something God says is wrong.  Eventually he was suspended for several days for what was deemed disruptively hateful speech.

1. Should a student be allowed to wear offensive t-shirts in High School?

High School is a place where students seriously lack discipline.  Teachers often struggle to make their kids not want to deliberately misbehave.  In American public schools, where there is no dress code aside from established subconscious standards about revealing-ness, I believe being too outspoken about anything controversial shows a lack of respect, and encourages misbehavior and distractions from the class.


I think the guidelines should be less strict in college about offensive messages in clothing, because from my experience, the students already act respectful.  They no longer feel forced into the prison of education, and the professors are actually more generally more qualified to teach about their fields.  If the class actually does get distracted and a provocative discussion ensues, it may be best to make the student change dress.  

2. Is High School a marketplace for ideas?  Can anyone wear anything?

High School is not a marketplace for ideas.  It is a place for learning the material in class, and making friends.  People that young probably won’t even have the same views they did in a few years.  We don’t let fourteen-year-olds vote.  If there is anything else that can’t be worn, it’s what the particular society deems overly sexually revealing, or images of severe violence, or strong hate of peer groups (excluding generic cliques and hobbies, who will forever be comically at war with each other without repercussions, even in children’s television programs of the youngest possible demographic).

3. Should Chase have been suspended, expelled, or disciplined?

I think he should have been disciplined before being suspended.  Although I personally hate anti-LGBT sentiment, having and expressing it is not so outrageous.  It is pretty sensible to interpret the Bible as anti-homosexual.  There are sodomy laws in several states.  Many Americans consider homosexuality a disgusting and sinful thing like theft, murder, and kidnapping, if not a socially destructive bad habit like gambling and alcoholism.  There is not enough empathy for anti-gay people and Bible Belt communities on the part of us progressivist urbanites.  We just think they are backward and ignorant.  Yet still, I believe Chase wanted to promote a deep loathing of students who defied no rules, and that is not justified.

4. Does a t-shirt incite or do words?  (is this question spelled correctly, professor?)  I’ll assume it means, “Does a t-shirt incite or do no justice to words?”

I don’t think t-shirts incite the immediate discomfort and/or rage the way spoken words can do.  However, they are often far more practical- you won’t get called to stop talking, or punched, or accused of “hate speech”, and you can capture support gradually.

It is important to realize that the type of group condemned in any hateful speech or sign affects (and helps the choice of whether or not to express at all) the displayer of it.  Anti-terrorism shirts will get you patriotic nods.  Anti-(insert race) might get blasts of even-more-hateful-speech or a beating.  Anti-atheism clothing could be beyond acceptable in one American community, or incite the need for discipline in a multicultural one.  Anti-marijuana may provoke opinions, but likely no dialogue.  What is considered good-to-hate and bad-to-hate evolves, but mostly for the better.

5. What would you do if you were a teacher, a student or a jury member?

If I were a teacher, I would have told Chase to leave his homosexual peers alone, even if it means they are to be punished by God, because religious judgments don’t apply to the good of the school setting.

As a student at that age, I probably wouldn’t do anything, because I have no power to change the ethics of anyone in this kind of issue. 

If were being tried by a jury, I would not have him convicted of any crimes.

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