Saturday, November 26, 2011

Talking Points #11: Fricke verses Lynch 1980 court case

Fricke verses Lynch (1980, Rhode Island)

Paul Guilbert was a high school junior who lived in Rhode Island and attended Cumberland High School. He was homosexual and he requested permission from the principal to attend the school dance and bring a male date. The principal, Richard Lynch denied his request. His reasoning for refusing Guilbert to bring a male date was that he feared it would cause "disruption at the dance and possibly lead to physical harm to Guilbert." Because Paul Guilbert couldn't bring a male date, he just didn't attend the dance. However, the next year Aaron Fricke who was also a homosexual student at the same school and at friend of Guilbert, asked the principal for permission to bring a same-sex date to the school dance. And once again the request was denied out of fear of physical harm to Fricke and his date. Then Fricke immediately filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, that way he would be allowed to attend the dance. The judge ruled in a manner that if the reason why the principal denied the request was because he was fearful of the students safety that he could have provided appropiate security to help monitor and therefore avoid such conflicts.
This is the letter the principal wrote to Aaron Fricke:
"Dear Aaron:
This is to confirm our conversation of Friday, April 11, 1980, during which I denied your request to attend the Senior Reception on May 30, 1980 at the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Massachusetts, accompanied by a male escort.
I am denying your request for the following reasons:
1. The real and present threat of physical harm to you, your male escort and to others;
2. The adverse effect among your classmates, other students, the School and the Town of Cumberland, which is certain to follow approval of such a request for overt homosexual interaction (male or female) at a class function;
3. Since the dance is being held out of state and this is a function of the students of Cumberland High School, the School Department is powerless to insure protection in Sutton, Massachusetts. That protection would be required of property as well as persons and would expose all concerned to liability for harm which might occur;
4. It is long standing school policy that no unescorted student, male or female, is permitted to attend. To enforce this rule, a student must identify his or her escort before the committee will sell the ticket.
I suspect that other objections will be raised by your fellow students, the Cumberland School Department, Parents and other citizens, which will heighten the potential for harm.
Should you wish to appeal my decision, you may appeal to the Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Robert G. Condon. You will be entitled to a hearing before him or his designee. If you are not satisfied with his decision, you may appeal to the Cumberland School Committee. You are entitled to be represented by counsel, to examine and cross examine witnesses and to present witnesses on your own behalf. Further procedural details may be obtained from the Superintendent's office.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. I am sending a copy of this letter to your parents in the event they wish to be heard.
Sincerely, Richard B. Lynch Principal"

Wikipedia states, "The Court found the free speech claim to be dispositive, and therefore ruled that it was 'unnecessary' to deal at length with Fricke's free association and equal-protection arguments. But in a footnote, the judge left the door open to equal-protection arguments by noting that 'the school had afforded disparate treatment to a certain class of students' by setting up different policies for those who wished to bring same-sex partners to the dance. Such a policy, the Court said, could be 'profitably analyzed under the  Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Fourteenth Amendment Summary:

"State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed. No state would be allowed to abridge the "privileges and immunities" of citizens. No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty,or property without 'due process of law. No person could be denied 'equal protection of the laws.' Over time, numerous lawsuits have arisen that have referenced the 14th amendment. The fact that the amendment uses the word state in the Privileges and Immunities clause along with interpretation of the Due Process Clause has meant that state as well as federal power is subject to the Bill of Rights. Further, the courts have interpretated the word 'person' to include corporations. Therefore, they too are protected by 'due process' along with being granted 'equal protection.'"

The case was one of the first successful cases that went to court that involved LGBT issues in young people. And it is visited frequently when more cases that involve similiar issues are brought to the court room. And after this case more schools in the United States are more frequently allowing same-sex couples to attend dances and proms, but acceptance is still a major issue, but luckily some of these young people have the courage to fight for the justice they deserve.

Here is an example of another case similar to the one of Fricke verses Lynch. You can read about it here.

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