Q&A Friday: The Homeless And T-Shirts

Question: “The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a High School Sophomore who wore a shirt to school that read, “Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned. Homosexuality is Shameful” is NOT constitutionally protected free speech. This coming in the same week that they discovered a constitutional right to be a bum and invalidated a Los Angeles ordinance making it a misdemeanor to sleep out in the street.

What the hell is in the water over there in San Francisco? It’s ridiculous that I’d even have to ask this, but do you agree that the Constitution protects the right to be a homeless bum, but not the right to engage in speech that offends others?…” — maledicta

Answer: I disagree with the The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when it comes to the homeless. City streets are not apartments and the government has every right to stop people from trying to treat them as such.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the government has no obligation whatsoever to provide housing for the homeless. If the government CHOOSES to do it, as a response to their constituents, that’s fine. But, the court was flat out wrong to rule that the 8th Amendment REQUIRES the government to provide shelter to the homeless or allow them to sleep on the sidewalks and if the ruling is appealed to the Supreme Court, I expect it to be overturned.

As a side note, I’m of the opinion that the best thing we could do for the chronically homeless (as opposed to a person who’s temporarily homeless due to some misfortune) would be to arrest them and force them to go through a program to get their lives back on track.

The vast majority of the homeless are either alcoholics, junkies, or have severe mental problems and until they deal with those problems, they’re going to be unable to take care of themselves. As a society, if we really had compassion for these people, we’d step in and force them to deal with the underlying problems that are causing them to be homeless so they can pull themselves together and live like human beings, instead of animals.

Unfortunately, we have liberal judges and lawyers who’ve blocked that sort of thing legally, presumably because we’d be infringing on people’s “right” to take crack, pee in the street, and sleep under a bridge if we actually rounded up the chronically homeless and forced them to get help.

As far as the t-shirt goes, I agree with the court. If public schools have a right to force kids to wear uniforms, they have the right to create a uniform dress code and force kids to abide by it. Does that mean we’ll always agree with their choices? No, but I still think they’re within their rights to ban the shirt.

The reason why issues like this tend to be so controversial is because unfortunately, schools (and the courts) often take sides in issues they really shouldn’t be involved in based on their political leanings. In this case, the school sanctioned a “pro-gay-rights event put on at the school by the Gay-Straight Alliance” and then when the student responded by wearing the shirt, the school said, “no, no, no.” Is that fair? No, but I think the school should still have a right to do it. Here’s something from Eugene Volokh that will help explain where I’m coming from on this one:

“The Supreme Court has indeed recognized that speech in K-12 public schools must be somewhat more restrictable than speech on the street. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) made clear that student speech might be restricted when it’s likely to substantially disrupt the educational process. And sometimes speech that’s hostile based on race, religion, or sexual orientation — as well as speech that offends people for a wide variety of other reasons — might indeed lead to substantial disruption.

But this is at least a facially viewpoint-neutral standard that potentially applies to speech on all perspectives, and doesn’t categorically cast out certain student viewpoints from First Amendment protection. While the standard isn’t without its problems, it is at least basically consistent with the First Amendment principle of “equality of status in the field of ideas.”

You wouldn’t think a debate over a simple t-shirt could be so complicated, but…

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