'Day of Silence' Protesters Defended After School Suspensions

A legal defense organization has been working to overturn the school suspensions that dozens of students received after they protested the "Day of Silence" last week.

Students in at least three school districts in the Sacramento area were told to go home, suspended, or given "Saturday school" by school officials. Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) has been working with the schools to reverse any penalties incurred by affected students and has threatened legal action if it is not resolved.

"Basic First Amendment freedoms have been violated, and it is imperative that schools realize dialogue is not possible when only one side of the debate is allowed to speak," explained Kevin Snider, chief counsel of PJI, in a statement. "We're encouraged by the headway which has been made with some schools, and we are hopeful that all of these suspensions will be fully rescinded."

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The "Day of Silence" is a date of activism that is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in response to alleged bigotry that homosexual students receive at school. Students who support the day choose to remain silent throughout their classes to represent how gays are often unheard. This year's protest was held on Apr. 18.

Several groups have opposed the day, however, saying that it normalizes homosexual behavior at school, and gives an unfair voice to homosexuals while Christians are censored over their religious speech.

"Every year, the Day of Silence grows more threatening to people of faith," added Snider. "We can't afford to back down from this fight."

A number of Sacramento students attempted to protest the "Day of Silence" through a variety of means, including literature distribution, holding signs on sidewalks near the schools, and wearing shirts that had biblical viewpoints of homosexuality written on them. Around 3,000-4,000 students also refused to come to school to show their opposition.

Dozens of protesting students at Inderkum High School, Rio Linda High School, and San Juan High School were disciplined by their school administrators in reaction to the protests, which PJI says violates their rights to free speech.

At Rio Linda alone, around 30 students were given some sort of disciplinary action. Many of the involved peers there had worn shirts that said "Sodomy is sin" and were asked to remove them.

Officials this week have changed their official ruling on the shirts, allowing students to wear them as long as they cover up the word "sodomy" with duct tape. The local school board does not allow clothing with "crude, vulgar, profane or sexually suggestive" written on them, but had no problems with the rest of the shirt.

Gay-rights groups are angry about the decision, however, since gay students will still feel attacked by the altered shirts.

"All the kids know what the shirt says," said Jade Baranski, a Sacramento gay youth activist, in the Detroit News. "I was in high school three years ago. There's no way putting a piece of duct tape over a word was going to fool me."

Local students and religious leaders who were upset over the suspensions last week also held several protests on Thursday and Monday outside of Rio Linda High School after the "Day of Silence" ended Wednesday.

After being contacted by PJI, both Inderkum and Rio Linda High School have fully resolved the situations and removed the suspensions from student records.

PJI is still awaiting a response from San Juan High School after it sent a demand letter, and will use litigation if necessary. The law institute has pledged to monitor the situation as well as any other that may arise.

"If young voices of conscience are silenced, who will lead the next generation?" Snider concluded.

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