Court refuses to suspend school dress code

By The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court refused yesterday to suspend a dress code at a suburban San Diego high school that was challenged by a student who wore a T-shirt with anti-gay language.

Tyler Chase Harper sued the Poway Unified School District in 2004 to overturn a policy calling for schools to reduce or prevent "hate behavior," including threats and attacks based on sexual orientation.

The case is Harper v. Poway Unified School District, 06-595.

Harper had been pulled from class for wearing a T-shirt that read, "Homosexuality is shameful" on the front and, "Be ashamed. Our school has embraced what God has condemned," on the back.

His lawsuit claimed the policy violated his rights to freedom of speech and religion.

In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with a federal judge that Harper lost his ability to challenge the policy when he graduated last year.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the policy to remain in effect pending the outcome of the lawsuit and sharply criticized the student's challenge.

The appellate judges said the T-shirt was "injurious to gay and lesbian students and interfered with their right to learn" and that it "collides with the rights of other students in the most fundamental way." They said Harper was unlikely to prevail on claims that the policy limited free speech, they said.

The Supreme Court ruling also set aside the appellate ruling. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented.

In January, a federal judge in San Diego upheld the school's policy in a ruling on the broad merits of the case.

U.S. District Judge John Houston considered the matter on behalf of Harper's sister, Kelsie, who is still a student at the school. The case is now before the 9th Circuit.

Jack Sleeth, a school district attorney, said the order had no impact on the case or school policy but would prevent attorneys from citing the appellate court decision in other lawsuits.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which represents Harper, said the order strengthens its case by setting aside an "extremely dangerous" appellate court ruling that allowed the school to "censor the Christian point of view, while permitting students to speak out in support of homosexual behavior."