Chalk one up for freedom of expression. Although many anti-gunners think it’s acceptable to infringe on freedom of speech when it comes to anything related to guns, a federal judge has put the brakes on a school district’s ability to enforce a wide interpretation of its dress code that even bans the word gun being visible on clothing.
The case involves Markesan High School, in Wisconsin, where student Matthew Schoenecker was told he couldn’t wear shirts that read: “Celebrate Diversity,” with icons of different guns above it; or the word “LOVE” represented with graphics of guns and grenades. We can only guess that if he had worn the “Suns out, guns out” T-shirt, that would have caused problems, too.
It seems that school officials viewed even the mention of the word gun, or an innocent drawing of one, as a violation of the dress code that prohibits students from wearing “clothing or articles displaying obscenities, suggestive slogans and/or images, nudity, gangs, crime, violence, occult worship, slanderous or harassing material, encouragement of disruptive behavior, weapons, beer/alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drug designs.”
But U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman said the school overstepped its bounds.
Because the images on the shirts "are pure speech, in that they contain images and words that convey a message," they are presumptively covered by the First Amendment even if they are open to interpretation, she wrote.
The school principal made the case for the T-shirts being disruptive by saying that teachers said the shirts “made them uncomfortable” and that, since he wore them after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., it made them concerned about school safety.
Adelman, though, said those opinions were an overstatement of the situation, writing that other students might well have had some apprehension about school safety after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, but it was not exacerbated by Schoenecker’s clothing.
Let’s hear it for a reasonable ruling.
Of course, now that the school has lost its battle, we can probably expect changes to their dress code as a way to circumvent the judge’s decision.
The ruling comes just months after parents in California challenged a decision that a student couldn’t wear a T-shirt mentioning the NRA and showing a flag illustrated out of ammunition.