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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Do We Have A Right *Not* To Be Offended In School?

Is this a 1st Amendment issue? Or does the school have a blanket policy against the wear of *any* seemingly-political messages on student attire?

An Oregon student suspended for wearing a “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.” T-shirt has sued his school, claiming the punishment violated his First Amendment right to free speech. According to a complaint filed May 18 in Oregon District Court, Addison Barnes wore the shirt to a Liberty High School class where a discussion of immigration issues was scheduled. The shirt also featured the words, “The wall just got 10 feet taller,” a reference to a 2016 remark by President Donald Trump… According to the complaint, a school official summoned Barnes after he entered the classroom wearing the shirt, and told him that at least one student and one teacher had been offended by the shirt. Barnes covered the shirt and returned to class, but later removed the covering. After that, school officials sent a security guard to the class to remove Barnes, and told him to cover the shirt or go home for the rest of the day. School officials treated his departure as a suspension, according to the complaint… The Liberty High School student handbook, posted on the school’s website, includes a rule that “only appropriate sayings or pictures are acceptable” on students’ clothes, but mentions no specifics.

Whether or not you agree with the student’s message, and he was clearly trying to send one, does it seem like he has a case?

Update, 5/28:  We have a little more information:

Liberty High School’s Parent-Student Handbook doesn’t address political clothing, KPTV reported. But Hillsboro School District’s Standards of Student Conduct says, “Clothing decorated or marked with illustrations, words, or phrases that are disruptive or potentially disruptive, and/or that promote superiority of one group over another is not permitted.” “He was told he offended them but that’s a far cry from being disruptive and it is certainly a far cry from violating school policy, let alone what is clearly First Amendment free speech law,” said Barnes’ attorney Mike McLane. “The school clearly crossed the line,” ACLU Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos told KGW-TV. “This shirt is mean spirited, but it isn’t a ‘disturbance’ under First Amendment case law.”

Not a common occurrence lately, that the ACLU and I agree on something.

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