T-shirt sparks ACLU to act

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 2:22 PM PST

Mariah Jimenez

Mariah Jimenez is standing up for her rights. She is proud of her actions.

The Big Bear High School sophomore class president and the ACLU joined forces after Jimenez was asked to change her shirt on Nov. 3. The shirt was printed with “Prop 8 Equals Hate.” On Nov. 4, California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriages.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Jimenez must be allowed to wear the shirt because its message is protected under state and federal constitutions regarding free speech.

Jimenez wore the shirt all day without incident. During her sixth-period class, her teacher, Sue Reynolds, told her the shirt was divisive and drew a line down the school, Jimenez told The Grizzly. The sophomore was sent to the principal's office and given a choice-change her shirt or spend the rest of the day in his office. Jimenez chose to change her shirt.

Jimenez wrote a letter to the editor of The Grizzly that afternoon. In the letter she wrote, “While I am passionate about this cause, I was a little apprehensive of wearing my shirt for fear of being treated poorly by fellow students. What I encountered was verbal harassment, students replying with ‘Vote yes on 8.' But that was not what concerned me most.”

Jimenez's letter ended with, “I feel strongly about my beliefs and think that it is atrocious that my First Amendment rights are being compromised. We all need to embrace tolerance a little more, especially when trying to influence the youth of America, even if we don't agree with others' opinions.”

The ACLU got involved when Jimenez's mother contacted the organization, and the attorneys agreed to take the case. Carole Ferraud, superintendent of Bear Valley Unified School District, was contacted and informed that the school violated Jimenez's rights. An apology was requested.

“The apology was unacceptable,” Jimenez said. She said Ferraud wrote a letter that stated the matter was handled.

The ACLU wrote a response letter to Ferraud and Mike Ghelber, Big Bear High School principal, protesting Ghelber and Reynolds' actions. Jimenez said she is waiting for the outcome of that letter.

“I want acknowledgment that my First Amendment rights were violated,” Jimenez said. For her, Prop. 8 is a human rights issue, she said. She said the fact that it passed is a step backward. The Bible bans interracial marriages and homosexual marriages, she said. Passing Prop 8 opens the door to ban interracial marriages, she said. “What's next?”

Jimenez said she hopes the ACLU's involvement will help change policy. She said she is proud she stood up for her rights, and that she is willing to fight for what she believes in.

“I will never get married,” Jimenez said. But she has friends who are gay and want to get married. She wants them to be able to make that choice and be happy, she said.

Jimenez is a member of the Big Bear High School girls golf team. She has been involved in school politics for several years. Her mother was an assistant coach for the high school wrestling team for several years.

Ferraud did not return a phone call before press time.

Contact reporter Judi Bowers at 909-866-3456, ext. 137 or by e-mail at jbowers.grizzly@gmail.com.

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