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Patrick Springer, Published September 14 2012

Ada students making statement in favor of Minnesota gay marriage ban

ADA, Minn. – The student body at the high school here got an impromptu lesson in free speech when some students showed up wearing

T-shirts that read: “Vote yes for marriage. One man, one woman.”

The slogan, emblazoned on lime-green T-shirts worn Thursday by half a dozen or so students, was an allusion to a proposed constitutional gay marriage ban on the November ballot in Minnesota.

One parent called to complain, and the injection of a political controversy onto campus caused a bit of a stir, but no real disruption among the Ada-Borup High School student body of about 240, Superintendent Mike Kolness said Friday.

Because the message on the T-shirt didn’t violate school policies – it wasn’t profane and didn’t endorse the use of alcohol or drugs, for instance – the school could not intervene, he said.

“I received a call from one parent,” Kolness said. “The person just said they were not appropriate for school.”

But appeals courts consistently have decided that such an expression of free speech must be allowed, Kolness said. A check with a lawyer confirmed that, he said.

“This has been decided at the high court level,” Kolness said. “We can’t tell them that they can’t wear them. It’s freedom of speech.”

A day later, on Friday, everything at Ada-Borup High School had returned to normal. “Things seem to be just fine today, the superintendent said.

Leslie Hilde, who has two children in elementary grades at the school in Ada-Borup, said the display opposing gay marriage could be offensive to any students who were gay or lesbian.

“I don’t like that decision,” she said, referring to the school district’s decision that wearing the T-shirts was permitted free speech. “My whole thought is we’ve had students who’ve left the school who were gay or lesbian” and did not feel welcome.

Randy Peterson, who said he lives in Ada and has a son who is a senior at Ada-Borup high, said in a posting on Facebook that a couple of teachers complained that the shirts were offensive to some students, and they should be made to change. Now that it’s clear that controversial speech that doesn’t violate policies is permitted, a counter expression of free speech could be on the way.

“So my son and a bunch of his friends made up a bunch of shirts that they are going to wear to school on Monday,” Peterson said in his Facebook post.

“We have an excellent group of kids,” Kolness said, who added that he can’t remember a similar controversy in his 23 years at Ada-Borup, 14 of those years in administration.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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