Right to Wear a T-Shirt Confirmed for High School Student

Gay rights flag, by Flickr user "Mktp", licensed via Creative CommonsAn Ohio teenager won the right to wear a “Jesus is not a homophobe” t-shirt at his high school.  Maverick Couch first wore the t-shirt in April 2011 to commemorate a “Day of Silence”, an event where participants remain silent throughout the day, representative of the inability of many LGBT students to speak out against bullying due to fear, undeserved shame, doubt, etc.  Being a young gay man himself and participating in an LGBT awareness event, Maverick thought nothing much of donning his thought-provoking and pro-LGBT t-shirt.  The Powers that Be at the high school, however, probably incensed that dem der homos get a whole day to themselves in the first place, told Maverick that he had to wear the shirt inside-out in order to hide the supposedly-incendiary message.  Later that same year, Maverick asked his principal for permission to wear the shirt again.  This time, he was threatened with suspension if he wore the shirt.  Unfortunately for the high school, instead of wearing the shirt, Maverick decided to sue the school, alleging that his First Amendment rights were trounced.  The suit snowballed, and soon brought the controversy to a global audience, providing yet more evidence that the Streisand Effect should not be taken lightly.

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Business v. Class Action

 

A contract signature.  Photo by Frank McMains, of www.lemonsandbeans.com, licensed via Creative Commons.
How much are you signing away to get that sweet, sweet 1994 Toyota Tercel?

An article in the New York Times caught my attention today.  It’s about the fallout from the 2011 Supreme Court decision in AT&T v. Concepcion, which stated that corporations can write clauses into contracts to prevent class action lawsuits.  To do this, the clauses require customers to settle disputes through arbitration (instead of in an actual court of law) and to relinquish their right to litigate as a class.  In effect, the contracts waive the customers’ right to due process.  Since that decision, the legal world has changed.  For the better or for worse?

Keep reading the full post to see what’s up with these clauses and to learn a tip on how to get around them.

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Videotaping Police: Dangerous, Lucrative, and Constitutionally Protected

Camera equipment, by Flickr user joshjanssen, licensed via Creative Commons
You should record the Po Po by all means, but you probably don’t need all this.

Two court settlements have come down this week that shine light on the increasingly-common practice of videotaping police officers.  In Las Vegas, Mitchell Crooks was beaten  up by a police officer while videotaping a burglary investigation across the street from his house.  In Boston, attorney Simon Glik was arrested and prosecuted under wiretapping laws for using his cell phone to record an arrest of another man.  All charges were dropped in both cases, but both men also sued for violations to their civil rights.  In both cases, they reached a settlement before going to court for a judgement, with Crooks receiving $100,000 and Glik receiving $170,000.  Nearly 6 months ago, Glik’s case even went to the 1st Circuit Appeals Court, where they upheld the rights of citizens to record public police action in a landmark, often-cited decision.

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Free Speech Lawsuit Settled for $75,000

The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech to all people, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.  The town of South Hadley in Massachusetts learned that the hard way, as they have paid out a large sum of money for attempting to silence a critic at a public school board meeting in April, 2010.  Luke Gelinas was at the meeting to read a prepared statement in which he criticized the school board’s inaction regarding the bullying of a student — inaction which may have led to the student’s suicide.  According to the Boston Globe, Gelinas was interrupted by school board member Edward Boisselle, who told him “you’re done” and explicitly said “this is not your First Amendment right”.  In fact, it was not only Gelinas’s right to speak at a meeting with public officials, but I would also argue that it is Boisselle’s duty to uphold that right.  Gelinas was escorted out of the meeting, but wasn’t finished.  He filed a complaint and has waged a two-year legal battle to affirm his rights.  Today, via a settlement of $75,000, he has been vindicated.

What kind of country would we be if all detractors and critics and informed intellectuals were silenced by those in power and led out of the room for holding an unpopular opinion?  Well, we’d be 18th-century Britain.  This is exactly the reason the Declaration of Independence was written.  “Taxation without representation”, a popular phrase at the time, was really more about how the British government refused to listen to the needs of the colonists.  The Americans were, to draw a parallel to this case, told to leave and that they did not have the right to speak freely in Parliament.  In response, they waged a revolution, built a new country, and the rest is history.  While I’m not about to recommend breaking ties with South Hadley and forming a new city, I will posit this case as a reminder that the Bill of Rights is a document crafted to protect the people of the US from their government, and this is precisely why.

Banned Basketball Mom Wins $63k in Civil Rights Settlement

A Pittsburgh mother who was banned from her daughter’s high school basketball games has won a $63,500 settlement with her school district in a discrimination dispute.  Diane Wickstrom claimed that she was banned from the school’s basketball games and practices for no just cause after she sent an email concerning her daughter’s team.  After the email, the Peters Township Athletic Association imposed a new rule closing practices to the public, which Wickstrom claimed was enforced exclusively on her.  Lawyers for the basketball mom argued that the banning was an infringement on her First Amendment rights, with the ban occurring under “false premises”.  As part of the settlement, the township’s insurer will pay Wickstrom $55,000 and the school district $8,500, and Wickstrom, of course, has been readmitted to her daughter’s basketball games.

Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.