Last month, I posted about a student who had been sent home from school because she had worn an anti-gay shirt to school. That story just got more serious.
To make sense of this, you need to know about Pastor Rich Penkoski of the “Warriors for Christ DC Chapter.” He’s one of the people who filed a federal lawsuit earlier this summer challenging Washington D.C.’s “Black Lives Matter Plaza” — with the yellow words painted on the road leading up to the White House — because they said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had broken the law by establishing the “Black Lives Matter cult, which is a denominational sect of the religion of Secular Humanism.”
It’s Penkoski’s daughter who’s at the center of this new battle. She was sent home from Livingston Academy, a public high school in Tennessee, for wearing a shirt saying “Homosexuality is a sin.”
My 15 year old was thrown out of school for the day for wearing this shirt. #lgbt wants to trample on your #freespeech rights while they cry for special rights. #warriorsforchrist #pride #homosexuality #Bible pic.twitter.com/rapqo0qZMp
— Rich Penkoski (@WFCChurch) August 26, 2020
The school justified its decision by saying the shirt had a “sexual connotation.” It wasn’t her faith that was a problem — a “John 3:16” shirt would’ve been fine — it was the inappropriate nature of it. (I would argue the shirt was hateful, not sexual.)
Penkoski didn’t buy that argument because, he said, there was a teacher who had LGBT pride stickers in the classroom. Why was that permitted while his daughter’s shirt was deemed inappropriate? (Simple: Because supporting LGBTQ students isn’t promoting sex. It’s supporting students as they are.)
But Penkoski wasn’t entirely out of line here. In 2005, an Ohio student wearing a shirt with the same anti-gay message (along with anti-Muslim and anti-abortion ones) was given the okay by a judge, who just called it offensive (but protected) political speech.
Given the legal gray area here, Penkoski has now filed a lawsuit against the Overton County Board of Education. The lawsuit notes that the school has a dress code that prohibits “offensive messages, including advertisements for drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sexual connotations or double meanings.”
That might seem fairly clear — in favor of the school’s actions — but Penkoski says those terms (“sexual connotations,” “double meanings,” etc.) are not properly defined. Then he goes further:
The suit claims the girl’s rights were violated by the school, violating her Freedom of Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, Due Process, Equal Protection, and rights under the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2009.
Whether this will go anywhere, I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine how her ability to be a Christian was hampered by the school enforcing its dress code. It’s going to be impossible to show the school was being anti-Christian. And asking her to change clothes or cover up the shirt with a sweater is hardly some sort of black stain on anyone’s permanent record.
(via Religion Clause. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)