Christian Student Penalized for Wearing “Homosexuality Is a Sin” Shirt Wins Settlement

Source: Freepik

A Christian student who was punished for wearing a “Homosexuality is a Sin” t-shirt won a settlement against the school that punished her. The student, who lives in Tennessee, was forced to change out of her t-shirt by school officials who saw it as offensive. Let’s see how this came about.

Forced To Submit Or Leave

Brielle Penkoski, the student wearing a T-shirt with the offending slogan, was told that she had to change her outfit or face ejection from the school grounds.

Source: Flickr/Tim Evanson

Because of previous legislation, schools are not allowed to promote religion within their halls, and some say that this interpretation explains the response.

A First Amendment Victory

Many have praised the student’s victory as a victory for First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Under the First Amendment, everyone is guaranteed freedom of speech or the “right to offend.”

Source: Flickr/Kyle Dickson

However, some see the victory as a win for hate speech against homosexuals. Many state that it shows that conservative ideology is still the dominant force in Tennessee’s courts.

A Settlement Reached

In November, the Overton County Board of Education reached a settlement with Penkoski, agreeing to pay her $100 and all attorney fees and other litigation costs associated with the case.

Source: Flickr/Surat Lozowick

The $100 settlement isn’t a lot, but typically, these sorts of cases don’t have huge settlements attached to them. They’re more a token of victory, showing that they won an ideological battle.

A Validated Victory

Penkoski’s father, who is a street preacher, was validated by his daughter’s victory against the school board. It’s clear where Penkoski’s opinion of homosexuals comes from.

Source: Wikimedia/National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Penkoski noted that the victory underscored his and his daughter’s position. He also pushed for teachers to undergo First Amendment training as part of the settlement.

No Guilt Admitted

The school board didn’t have to admit any guilt as part of the settlement. However, it was required to schedule training for teachers to better understand First Amendment rights.

Source: Flickr/Anssi Koskinen

Penkoski’s shirt didn’t only have the slogan, “Homosexuality is a Sin,” but it also stated the verse and chapter of the bible where this rule appeared. The Bible is very clear on what its believers should think.

Father Says This Was His Daughter’s Opinion

While talking to the press, Penkoski’s father said that his daughter wanted to do this to express her personal opinion on the matter of homosexuality and its acceptance.


He further stated that since kids were allowed to walk around with pride stickers on their clothing and sneakers, his daughter was entitled to walk around with her opinion on her clothes.

School Officials Highlight Sexual Connotation

The school’s official response to why they asked Penkoski to avoid wearing the t-shirt was because it contained a sexual reference that wasn’t allowed on the school compound.

Source: Flickr/Jonatan Svensson Glad (Josve05a)

Penkoski’s father states that this is a double standard and that a teacher has a gay pride flag in his classroom, which is just as much a sexual statement covering homosexuality.

Freedom Of Speech is a Right

According to the Constitution of the United States, freedom of speech is guaranteed to all people. Yet, over time, there have been severe erosions in what people can say.

Source: Flickr/Newtown grafitti

There’s a fine line between hate speech and free speech. However, unless one calls for violence against a particular group or subgroup, most people don’t consider it hate speech. This has been changing.

Offensive Speech Is Being Policed

Saying certain things about a particular group now has many social connotations. The term “cancel culture” has been used to refer to boycotts of entertainers and artists in response to their opinions.

Source: Flickr/becky bokern

Social media platforms have also started restricting speech to comply with advertisers’ wishes. Some people have seen their posts removed because they were deemed offensive by the platform’s bots.

Free Speech Applies To All Opinions, Even The Unpalatable Ones

Most people talk about freedom of speech without fully grasping the concept. Being able to criticize anyone and anything is part of freedom of speech. However, others prefer to censor offending opinions.

Source: Flickr/Ian Koski

While Penkoski’s opinion is not politically correct (especially in the social atmosphere of LGBTQ rights), she’s entitled to say whatever she wants to say within reason. However, free speech has limits.

Schneck vs. United States Defines Free Speech Limits

A very old ruling from right after the start of the First World War defines the courts’ standard for Free Speech limits. Most famously, the judge said that free speech would not protect a man yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Source: Flickr/Ellen Thompson

According to this ruling, the courts estimate whether allowing free speech would cause harm that Congress had forbidden. If it constitutes a “clear and present danger,” that speech is prohibited.

Freedom of Speech Has a Long History

The Ancient Greeks, the same source as our idea of democracy, were the original proponents of freedom of speech. They would have open forums for debate in a public square.

Source: Flickr/A S

The First Amendment was a nod to the inclusion of open debate into the democratic experiment. It protects all forms of expression, including Penkoski’s t-shirt.

Should She Have Been Silenced?

Some LGBTQ rights activists claim that Penkoski’s t-shirt is an apparent provocation and would constitute hate speech against an individual or a protected group, such as homosexuals.

Source: Flickr/N G

However, if we look at the Schneck vs. United States ruling, the t-shirt isn’t openly calling for violence against homosexuals. It simply states her religion’s opinions on them.

The First Amendment Stands Strong

According to what the US Constitution says about protecting the freedom of the individual to state an opinion, Penkoski wearing her t-shirt, even if it rubs some people the wrong way, is well within her rights.

Source: Flickr/Newtown grafitti

Protecting freedom of speech is vital in a democratic society because we should have the right to criticize our elected officials openly. We should also criticize points of view that we disagree with. However, we should never make it a law that others aren’t supposed to voice their own opinions, even if we think those opinions are wrong.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

Sally, a dynamic and viral writer, has taken the literary world by storm with her exceptional storytelling prowess. With an uncanny ability to tap into the collective consciousness of her readers, she crafts narratives that resonate deeply and linger long after the last word is read.

Born with a creative spirit, Sally honed her writing skills from a young age, cultivating a unique voice that blends emotion, wit, and social insight. Her work spans a wide spectrum, from poignant short stories that tug at the heartstrings to thought-provoking essays that challenge conventional thinking.

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