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T-shirts Test Tinker in Ohio High School

Celina, population 10,400 according to the 2010 Census, is a small town in Western Ohio that has seen recently seen increased testing of First Amendment rights with regard to protected speech. Twenty local high school students were scolded by administrators when they showed up wearing t-shirts with homemade designs that allegedly supported homosexual relationships. Other than being lambasted by school officials, the students were also prohibited from wearing the t-shirts that had slogans with the words “lesbian 1 and 2,” as well as expressions like “I support” and “express yourself” next to a graphic representation of a rainbow.

Censorship%2032058275-001.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) looked into the matter and issued a statement. The ACLU discouraged school officials from suppressing the free speech rights of students just because their opinion may not be popular, something often referred to as “conceding to the heckler’s veto.” Celina City School District superintendent Jesse Steiner told the press that the students were directed to remove the t-shirts because they were causing a disruption on campus.

The incident at Celina High School bears some resemblance to the oft-cited Tinker v. Des Moines landmark case and its effect on free speech at public schools. Just like at Celina High School, students involved in the Tinker case chose to express free speech by donning black armbands in support of a truce and ceasefire during the Vietnam War in 1969. Tinker has been thoroughly tested, however, by Bethel School District v. Fraser in 1986, whereupon the Supreme Court ruled that sexual innuendo at school did not amount to free speech.

The City of Celina’s motto is “One Of The 100 Best Small Towns!” Despite Celina’s small town charms, deep political convictions and testing of free speech seem to polarize the population. In mid-November, the Students4Life anti-abortion group of Celina High School erected a display of 300 white crosses and pro-life banners in a small vacant lot. This display does not sit well with some residents, but it was erected in anticipation of a visit by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who is also pro-life.