Yesterday, in high schools all over the country, students celebrated a "Day of Silence" to raise awareness of the discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies encounter. During the course of school day, students remained silent, wore tee-shirts and buttons and passed out cards that explain the reason for their silence. The card reads: "I am protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination."
Today, Christian students observed a "Day of Truth" where they also donned tee-shirts and buttons and passed out cards outside of class time that read: "I am speaking the Truth to break the silence. Silence isn’t freedom. It’s a constraint. Truth tolerates open discussion, because the Truth emerges when healthy discourse is allowed."
On the surface, this appears to be a lively exchange of ideas and exercise in awareness, within the rights of both groups' freedom of speech. But the significant difference between these two events on high school campuses is that one is supported by administrations and teachers, and the other is not.
In these U.S. high schools, over 5,500 Christian students have enrolled and many of those met opposition to the "Day of Truth" because of the perceived threat to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. This opposition is so great, that freedom of speech is threatened and even silenced. But with the exception of one reported disruption, the events appear peaceful and without incident, although not without controversy.
In Naperville Chicago, a tee-shirt worn by student Heidi Zamecnik as a response to the "Day of Silence" was censored by school officials. Because other students were permitted by the school to wear shirts the previous day, she chose to wear her shirt, never imagining that her freedom of speech alone would be prohibited.
“Students do not lose their constitutional right to free speech when they enter the schoolhouse door,” stated Heidi's legal counsel, Alliance Defense Fund's Nate Kellum. “A school cannot allow speech that promotes one viewpoint while censoring the other side of the debate. That is clear viewpoint discrimination and is in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Despite of the Alliance Defense Fund's efforts, a Federal Judge upheld the decision to censor Heidi and her classmate, Alexander Nuxoll. An appeal is pending.
There have been numerous free speech complaints revolving around the "Day of Silence" since its inception in 1996. Chase Harper, a San Diego high school student was suspended and threatened with further punishment for expressing his religious faith on a T-shirt during a "Day of Silence". A school administrator told the student to "leave his faith in the car" when his faith might offend others. A San Diego Judge ruled in favor of Harper's high school. Harper's attorney, Kevin Theriot, filed a petition to the Supreme Court.
“School officials do not have the right to engage in viewpoint discrimination, and this case is very important for those who support true tolerance and diversity in public schools,” said Theriot. “The core of the First Amendment is all about the right of Americans to express their sincerely held beliefs. In appealing this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, we hope the justices reverse the 9th Circuit’s terrible ruling.” The Supreme Court granted review in the case, and then "vacated" the District Court's ruling —rendering it null and void without a hearing.
In Connecticut, North Carolina, Illinois , Maryland,California , Michigan, and New Jersey, "Day of Truth" participants and organizers have been shut down by teachers and admninstrators, only to find school officials have recanted their position when confronted with legal representation from the Alliance Defense Fund , reminding administrators of the First Amendment rights of all students.
“The Day of Truth provides an opportunity for participating students to express a different perspective than the Day of Silence,” said ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears. “Allowing the communication of one viewpoint and claiming it’s the only viewpoint is advocating, not educating.” Still, attempts are made to silence the Christian point of view. The opposition revealed itself in an attempt to shut down the "Day of Truth" by flooding its website with false requests.
Not so indidious, are those involved in the "Day of Silence" who seem reluctant to share their spotlight with the opposing point of view.
"The Day of Silence was an event conceived of by students themselves in response to a very real problem of bullying and harassment they saw on their campuses," Kevin Jennings, GLSEN's executive director said. "The Day of Truth is a publicity stunt cooked up by a conservative organization with a political agenda; it's an effort by adults to manipulate some kids."
However, with nearly 6,000 students on board, it is unlikely students in those numbers are being manipulated. These are students expressing their religious beliefs, and facing harassment of their own. "We didn't mean to hurt anyone. The Day of Truth is to show love and compassion and another point of view," explained one Connecticut student and organizer, Rosemary Shakro.
Teachers are also outraged by the message the "Day of Truth" represents. Teacher Cindy NeJame, of Shakro's Danbury Connecticut High School retorted,"I'm working as an educator. The Day of Silence represents support for anyone who is different. I work at one of the most diverse high schools in the state and it is my job to represent all students."
While NeJame's reaction may seem hostile to differing opinions, it is understandable. As public school teachers, most belong to the National Education Association, who, last year at their 2006 National Convention, adopted, as their first order of business, ahead of any other issue, to support homosexual "marriage" and disseminate its acceptance. And while the NEA vehemently denies this claim, their website instructs educators on how to include topics on homosexuality in the classrooms, while no suggestions are available for including religious points of view or objections.
Education has begun to persuade students to accept and even embrace the gay lifestyle. At a high school in Newton Massachusetts, homosexual education has been taken out of the hands of parents. In their "ToBeGlad Day", children attended a seminar on how to tell if they were homosexual, and all parents were barred from attending. Material was handed out concerning when to have sex, and where to meet gay people. In an Illinois high school, a similar seminar was held, complete with mandatory confidentiality agreement for each student, forcing children to keep the meeting from their parents.
Silence works hand in hand with homosexual education in these schools. With such dishonest and subversive tactics by schools, those who advocate the "Day of Truth" would seem justified in wanting to break the silence.