May 26th, 2018 – An Oregon high school student was suspended for wearing a “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.” T-shirt to school, prompting him to file a lawsuit for violation of his First Amendment rights.
18-year-old Addison Barnes wore the shirt to Liberty High School for a class discussion on immigration. He was told his T-shirt, which featured the Trump quote, “The wall just got 10 feet taller,” had offended at least one teacher and one student, at which point he covered it up.
One student spoke to local station KGW-TV about the incident.
“This school is very Latino-populated,” senior Mark Guzman said. “The shirt offended a lot of people. In the hall, kids would ask me if I’d seen it.”
Barnes later decided that his rights were being violated, and so he took off the jacket, making the shirt visible to all. He was then asked to either take off the shirt or leave school. He decided to leave, which was then put down as a suspension. The suspension has since been removed.
“I had a teacher who had a pro-sanctuary-city poster in her room which was up all year, yet as I wear a pro-border wall shirt, I get silenced and suspended for wearing that,” Barnes told KGW-TV.
Liberty High School is a suburb of Portland, Oregon, known for being particularly liberal in its politics.
President Trump’s border wall has been a controversial topic both during the presidential campaign and afterwards. Major construction on the wall has yet to begin.
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.”
Barnes’ attorney Mike McLane said, “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.”
Even the local ACLU agreed.
“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.”
“It is disappointing that Liberty High School decided to censor the student instead of inviting the student body to discuss immigration, the freedom of speech, and the impacts of xenophobic rhetoric,” dos Santos continued. “Schools have a responsibility to teach our youth how to engage in thoughtful conversations about difficult and potentially offensive subject matters. Censorship doesn’t work and often just elevates the subject the government is trying to silence.”
Barnes is currently suing the school district, the high school, and the principal as he seeks the right to wear the banned shirt. The lawsuit is also asking for an undisclosed amount of money in damages.
Do you think students should be able to wear the “Trump Border Wall” T-shirt at school? Is this is clear violation of First Amendment rights or did the school make the right call?