Local teenage girls who wore "Virginity Rocks" t-shirts to school were allegedly ordered by officials at both Albemarle and Charlottesville high schools to change their shirts or turn them inside-out. Yesterday, Rutherford Institute attorneys sent a letter to the Albemarle superintendent warning that the schools can face legal action if they don’t let the girls wear the shirts without threat of sanction. Albemarle School division officials denied the allegation. Rutherford stands by its claims, and urges that all public school staff "be instructed that these students have a constitutional right to wear their abstinence t-shirts."
"In light of the fact that nearly 26% (1 in 4) of American girls aged 14-19 have at least one sexually transmitted disease," John Whitehead said in a news release, "I can’t imagine why any school would object to a message that promotes abstinence over potentially risky sexual activity." Whitehead is the president of The Rutherford Institute. He further said "it is our hope that school officials will recognize and respect that these students have a constitutional right to exercise their freedom of speech by wearing ‘Virignity Rocks’ t-shirts."
The t-shirts are distributed by Worth Your Wait, a Ruckersville organization that promotes sexual abstinence to teens.
Annie Kim, Senior Assistant County Attorney and counsel to the Albemarle County School Board, said of the dress code in county schools, as it pertains to message t-shirts, "Students do have First Amendment rights to express their views on their clothing. Schools have the responsibility to ensure that other students have the opportunity to learn and that the operation of the schools will not be disrupted."
Responding late yesterday to Rutherford’s letter, the County "vigorously" denied the allegations, saying it has investigated the alleged incident and AHS students "were never told ‘to change their t-shirts or turn them inside out.’”
Rutherford affirms that the principal agreed that the kids had a right to wear their Virginity shirts, but "school employees subordinate to the principal and acting in an administrative capacity have nevertheless continued to direct students to cover up the t-shirts."
This is not the first t-shirt trouble for Albemarle Schools. In 2002 Alan Newsom, then a middle-schooler, was instructed to remove or reverse the NRA Shooting Camp t-shirt he was wearing. The case earned national attention and his family sued for $150,000 on First Amendment grounds. Two years later the parties reached a settlement, terms of which were not disclosed.
"It is difficult to imagine how the shirts worn by Albemarle students—shirts promoting the message of abstinence for public health purposes—could reasonably be considered to be so disturbing," Rutherford’s John Whitehead said in his letter to Albemarle County School officials.