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Volume 68, Issue 132, Monday, April 14, 2003


Staff Editorial


Matthew Dulin    Geronimo Rodriguez      Cara Sarelli          Lisa Street


Gay or neigh

In what has the potential to become a landmark case, a ninth-grader and his parents are suing an Arkansas school and its district for allegedly violating his rights to free speech, equal protection and privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case against the Pulaski County Special School District for Thomas McLaughlin, 14, last week. 

"My school forced me out of the closet when I should have been allowed to come out on my own terms and when I thought it was the right time. And now the school has been trying to shove me back into it ever since," McLaughlin told

McLaughlin said that after confiding that he was gay to a few close friends, a teacher had a conference with his parents and "outed" him.

He also said teachers wouldnit allow him to discuss his sexual orientation with other students outside of class time.

He said one teacher told him that his homosexuality was "sickening" and called his mother to complain about it. 

When his computer science teacher told him he was "abnormal" and "unnatural" and he disagreed, McLaughlin says he was forced to go to the assistant principalis office and to read passages from the Bible aloud.

McLaughlin said that when he told his friends of his punishment, he was suspended from school for two days as further punishment.

McLaughlin said his principal and assistant principal told him if he told his friends why he was suspended that he would be expelled.

School officials have utterly misused their power over this student.

This is an interesting case because the plaintiff is a minor in a public school. Though the First Amendment of the Constitution protects the expression of adults, it does not do so for children or students in primary and secondary schools. Even an 18-year-old in a public school does not have free speech within the school.

In the interest of their schools, school districts have the right to punish ­ and even expel ­ students for things they say.

The school district denied "intentionally" violating any of McLaughlinis constitutional rights in a letter to the ACLU and said he was not being punished because of his sexual orientation, the Jacksonville Patriot reported.

Intentional or not, instructing a student to read the Bible at a public school as punishment can in no way be justified. Schools shouldnit be able to regulate what students talk about outside of class time. Teachers should do what they are supposed to do ­ teach ­ not criticize and discriminate.


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