Free Speech Doesn’t Apply When It’s About Guns in Wisconsin

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posted on March 11, 2020
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Photo by Samantha Han courtesy of Pixabay; image alteration by A1F staff

When it comes to firearms, apparently the First Amendment doesn’t hold water at public schools in Wisconsin.

Following in the footsteps of what a fellow education administrator did a couple of years ago, more Wisconsin public school officials have demonstrated zero tolerance for a student wearing clothes that advertise guns or advocate gun rights; as a result, and taking a lesson from the first instance, several parents are challenging those arbitrary decisions in court, saying educators at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales and Shattuck Middle School in Neenah, are violating the right to freedom of expression.

Maybe Beth Kaminski, the Kettle Moraine principal, and Shattuck Associate Principal David Sonnabend, who are named as defendants in the two most recently filed federal lawsuits, need to go back to class because it seems they weren’t paying attention at the end of 2018 when U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman granted an injunction against Markesan High School, a mere 75 miles away, for the same thing.

School officials in the first case, Schoenecker v. Koopman, said the T-shirts in question there (one used a variety of firearms to form the letters in the word “LOVE,” another depicted an array of firearms above the slogan “Celebrate Diversity”) violated the school dress code, which prohibits clothing or other items that display obscenities, sexually suggestive slogans or the “encouragement of disruptive behavior, weapons, beer/alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drug designs.” Matthew Schoenecker’s lawyer made the free-speech case in Adelman’s courtroom. She said in her injunction that the shirts qualified as protected speech.

The school districts have argued that the messages could be a precursor to school violence, though none of the shirts in question have contained threats.

We know the gun-control crowd is easily offended, but when anti-gunners shake in their shoes so much that they cower at mere words and art on a shirt, we have reached the point of absurdity.

Wisconsin educators need to be schooled in case law and legal precedent. If Adelman’s assessment wasn’t enough to make them realize they should be on the losing side of a classic battle, they need only look to Nevada. In the spring of 2018, a middle schooler in Reno, Nev., ran afoul of some teacher’s better judgment when he wore a Firearms Policy Coalition T-shirt that featured the Gadsden snake. That case was settled out of court a couple of months later and, surprise, the school district decided it would back off against picking on students who wore pro-Second Amendment attire. 

They should take that lesson to heart, as they may end up with egg on their faces should they lose, which they certainly should, barring an anti-gun and anti-free-speech ruling from an activist judge looking to send a message—though they would rightly deserve any public embarrassment if they insist upon seeing the cases through.

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