The Alachua County School Board did not violate the free-speech rights of members of Dove World Outreach Center when students from the church were sent home from school for wearing T-shirts bearing the words "Islam is of the Devil," a district court judge ruled Friday.
Senior District Judge Stephan Mickle wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that the First Amendment rights of students while they're in school are not as broad as the rights of people in public forums.
Mickle wrote that school policies to prohibit clothing that can cause disruptions are not a violation of constitutional rights.
" ‘Islam is of the Devil' presents a highly confrontational message. It is akin to saying that the religion of Islam is evil and that all of its followers will go to hell," Mickle wrote. "The message is not conducive to civil discourse on religious issues; nor is it appropriate for school generally."
If Dove World members had worn the T-shirts in a public place other than schools, Mickle added, they would likely be within their rights.
Alachua County school district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said the T-shirts, which were worn by students at several schools and at a high-school football game, did cause disruptions.
"Our stance was that we have not only the right, but the obligation, to protect children from any potential disruption caused by those T-shirts," Johnson said. "We did have a couple of situations where disruptions actually did occur."
Among them were incidents at a Gainesville High-Eastside High football game when a Muslim student felt threatened and called parents to be picked up. Johnson said other parents began to complain, leading to those wearing the T-shirts to be removed from the stands.
September 30, 2011, Gainesville