Legal Group Defends Students' Pro-Abstinence T-Shirts

A religious freedom and civil liberties legal group has come to the defense of two public high school students in central Virginia after they were reportedly reprimanded by school administrators to cease wearing pro-abstinence t-shirts.

The students – who wore shirts that proudly displayed messages such as "Virginity Rocks" and "I'm loving my Husband And I haven't even Met Him!" – were allegedly ordered by school officials to change or turn their shirts inside out.

In a letter to the school superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead defended the students, noting that the alleged action by school administrators was a violation of the students' right to free speech.

"[L]imitation of students' free speech rights is permissible only if the administration can demonstrate a well-founded expectation of disruption that is factually based on past incidents arising out of similar speech and not simply some remote apprehension of a disturbance," Whitehead wrote in his letter to the superintendent.

"It is difficult to imagine how the shirts worn by the students – shirts promoting the message of abstinence for public health purposes – could reasonably be considered so disturbing as to produce in school officials a well-founded expectation of disruption," he added.

Whitehead noted further in his letter that school officials were wrong to censor students as the shirts' message of abstinence was part of the state's curriculum guidelines for family life education.

"In light of the fact that nearly 26 percent (1 in 4) of American girls aged 14-19 have at least one sexually transmitted disease, I can't imagine why any school would object to a message that promotes abstinence over potentially risky sexual activity," Whitehead said in a personal statement.

"It is our hope that school officials will recognize and respect that these students have a constitutional right to exercise their freedom of speech by wearing 'Virginity Rocks' t-shirts," he added.

The pro-abstinence t-shirts worn by the students were part of a promotion campaign developed by "Worth Your Wait," a nonprofit organization dedicated to both the "health and well-being of students in Central Virginia," and empowering "students to resist negative peer pressure when making decisions about sexual activity and to inform students about the physical risks of having sex."