The Day of Silence is coming up on April 20th. The Day of Silence was started in 1996, and it’s a day when middle school, high school, and college students refuse to speak to bring awareness to the “silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.”
I think this is a great event but, as always, it raises the question, “Is it legal?”
Does the First Amendment include the Right Not to Speak?
Absolutely! Your right to free speech includes your right not to speak.
Am I Allowed to Refuse to Speak in Class?
Check with your school. In general, they can’t prohibit you from participating in the Day of Silence before school and between classes, but they may be able to require you to speak if asked a question in class. You still have a choice not to speak, but you might lose participation points in class or find yourself in detention.
Get your school on board in advance. It would be awesome if the administration requires teachers to respect students’ right not to speak on the Day of Silence. The Day of Silence website has a template for cards that you can carry that inform people why you are being silent. This would be a good reminder for teachers if they forget that it’s the Day of Silence.
Can I Wear a LGBT or Anti-Bullying Shirt, Sticker, or Button?
It depends. In general, your First Amendment rights include the right to wear clothing or buttons that shows support for a cause as long as it’s not profane or lewd. However, a school is allowed to restrict speech if the school has a reasonable belief that not restricting it will cause a “substantial disruption to the school.”
I went to a private high school and we had a strict dress code that prohibited all verbiage on clothing except for high school and college t-shirts and sweatshirts. If you have a dress code like this, you’ll have to get special permission to deviate from the dress code for the day. It’s a request worth making. There were a few times in high school when I wanted to wear my lucky shirt to school and it had illegal verbiage on it. The dean of students always approved it as long as I got her permission in advance.
Can I Wear Duct Tape on my Mouth?
It depends. The same rule about not causing a classroom disruption with your clothes also applies to wearing duct tape on your mouth. I think wearing duct tape would be awesome.
A word of warning – if you go to a school where you are the target of physical assaults, you may want to use some kind of buddy system if you’re going to have duct tape over your mouth. If you get pinned to the ground and someone plugs your nose, you could suffocate.
Can Other Students Have an Anti-LGBT Day in Response?
Yes. The right to free speech generally gives other people the right to be closed-minded and stupid. The Day of Dialogue was created as a counter-protest to the Day of Silence, and some conservative groups urge parents to keep their children home on the Day of Silence if a school was observing it. If your school is allowing a counter-protest, the restrictions that your school puts on you should apply equally to them.
The official Day of Silence website has some additional resources and information. If you see anyone participating in the Day of Silence, let them know you support them, even if they can’t verbally respond. They can still give you a smile or a hug. Your support means a lot.