Even with the long history of constitutionally-supported free speech in the US, we still routinely encounter examples that ruffle feathers and cause controversy. Such was the recent example of Maverick Couch, an openly gay high school student in Ohio, who wore a t-shirt to school declaring that “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe”. Given that this was a school environment, this case could have gone one of two ways – objection to the religious element of the message, or to the homophobe comment.
In this case, school officials objected on grounds of the latter of the two and forbid Couch to wear the shirt. Couch countered with a lawsuit, and school officials have offered a compromise, allowing him to wear the shirt to school on April 20, the National Day of Silence, a day designed to raise awareness of bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in schools.
Bullying is of course on everyone’s minds these days, as the long-standing practice is finally receiving attention for the problem that it is. In this case, all Couch wanted to do was express his identity in the face of those who those who would bully him into silence. The result may be a bit disappointing, limiting Couch’s opportunity to wear the shirt to a single day. However, as history shows, the right to free expression starts with one instance, and grows from there.