Court strikes down antiharassment policy

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 16 2001 12:00 AM ET

A federal court in Philadelphia on Wednesday struck down a school district’s antiharassment policy on the grounds that it violated the rights of Christian students who want to condemn homosexuality, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The three-judge panel of the U.S. court of appeals for the third circuit unanimously struck down the State College area school district’s policy on the grounds that it was “overly broad.” “There is no categorical ‘harassment exception’ to the First Amendment’s free speech clause,” Judge Samuel Alito Jr. wrote. Much of the speech banned under the district policy did not constitute harassment under state or federal law, Alito noted. The policy bans “unwelcome verbal, written, or physical conduct which offends, denigrates, or belittles an individual.” The suit was brought on behalf of David Warren Saxe, an education professor at Pennsylvania State University who is legal guardian for two children in the school district. Saxe’s children are Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin. They argued that their faith requires them to share their beliefs with others. The Saxes were represented by the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy, a religious right group based in Tupelo, Miss. Bryan Brown, the Saxes’ attorney, said that “there are a lot of [policies] like State College, and a lot of them are going to fall.” The ruling is the first federal court decision on a school district’s antiharassment policy and could result in similar decisions by other federal courts elsewhere. “I don’t know how many school districts have policies as broad as State College’s, but it is probably a significant number,” said Michael I. Levin, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.