Federal Court Enjoins Limitations on Student Religous Expression

A federal district court judge has issued an interesting decision in Miller v. Penn Manor School District, (ED PA, Sept. 30, 2008). This case originally captured national attention when a high school student, Donald Miller III, was prevented from wearing a T-shirt that said “Special Issue-Resident-Lifetime License, United States Terrorist Hunting Permit…” The Court upheld the ban on such messages including violent messages. However, it struck down a religious-related ban.

It ruled as too overbroad and vague a prohibition on messages that “seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view.” It also enjoined a ban on student dress or expression that “is a distraction to the educational environment.”

For the opinion, click here.

For the full story, click here.

6 thoughts on “Federal Court Enjoins Limitations on Student Religous Expression”

  1. Former Federal LEO:

    “Alternatively, perhaps we humans are so biased, corrupt, and self-serving that our best constitutional days are behind us after a relatively brief exhibition of what I considered a society that respected and followed the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the subsequent 17 Amendments.”

    That pessimistic assessment of human nature is a decidedly Hobbesian and orthodox Christian attitude quite at odds with the concept of democracy we have today and upon which we were founded. That we may do as we please without trespass or insult to others is the bedrock of the system,and it was nowhere better expressed than by Jefferson himself who reminded us that:

    “Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” –Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

    Your yearning for the mythical “good old days” of rigid dress codes and attitudes belies a none too subtle wish among conservatives of your ilk to impose your views of rightness and wrongness on peoples whose opposite views deserve as much, and in my judgment, more respect that yours. Your admiration for Catholic uniforms should be tempered by the knowledge that has recently exploded upon us, that the very attitude of submissiveness fostered by that lock-step mindset is precisely what fostered the culture of silence that protected the priest-led sexual abuse of thousands of children during these “pristine” days of law and order you glowingly describe. Apparently, the prescriptions of law and order did not apply to the hierarchical power structure that imposed it, but rather upon its minions who were powerless in the face of its weight.

    Those days you describe remind me of the Bejing Olympics opening ceremony with its lovely smiling children all dressed alike performing for our enjoyment, only later did we learn that such uniformity was a facade and technically enhanced– much like the “good old days” of the past that are now seen by conservatives as some golden age of societal bliss. I suggest you ask an African American how he/she enjoyed heavenly 50’s & 60’s, or maybe delve back farther and check with the sons and daughters of immigrants to find out just how fair and just society was to them as they immigrated in the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s. I suspect you will find that society treated them just about as well as some in our society treat immigrants today –with scorn, disgust and prejudice.

    I am sick of the conservative philosophy of fear and self-loathing. It seems to have its roots in their rigid upbringing, over emphasis of religion,and dogmatic view of the world’s problems. They are essential black or white thinkers who ultimate resort is to force or raw power to impose their views. That is precisely the problem with the Cheneys, Bushs, and Palins, of the current day.

    In closing, I say that I do not count you among those neo-cons since I know next to nothing about you, but I will say that your views seem taken from the same stock that forms their witches brew. I hope you will consider that while aesthetically lacking, the absence of uniformity has been our strongest ally on our path to freedom. Justice Louis Brandeis may have said it best, when he wrote “America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.”

  2. I am a strong proponent of First and Second Amendments and I am a member of the NRA. However, facility, staff, students, and others must accept reasonable limits regarding their personal expression and gun rights within the confines of public organizations and places, including schools.

    I prefer the requirement of school uniforms to promote a sense of ‘oneness’ or unity similar to the pride of commitment that all uniforms bring to sports, law enforcement, military, and similarly structured public organizations. What normal adolescent does not crave acceptance by their peers, to display one’s school colors, or wear the uniform of team sports as an expression of pride or accomplishment? School uniforms are subtle extensions of that ‘belonging to something and acceptance’ basic human need. Unfortunately, we are instead seeing the colors of gangs in schools, offensive slogans on T-shirts, and cliques based on ones ‘station in life’ and who can afford what clothes: gothic, 90210, and everything in-between. Uniforms remove the very divisive cultural stigma involving fashion, place all students on equal footing, and remove the ‘look at me’ stylishness of excesses or the many hate-, war-, threat-, religious- and any other slogan-mongering phrases available on T-shirts. With uniforms, there is no need for philosophically biased ‘nitpicking and choosing’ which T-shirt slogan is constitutionally offensive. After school, espousing, opposing, or ignoring those ‘thought-provoking’ expressions of free speech are all fair game.

    As a 1950s/early 60s youngster, I remember the admiration I had for my friends who went to Catholic school because, even then, I recognized that discipline was paramount. When parochial schooled kids left their structured, disciplined environs and then entered high school, they were intellectually superior and exhibited a demeanor far advanced when compared to most of the other kids that were ‘products’ of the less-disciplined public schools. (Disclaimer: I am an atheist).

    I am about as introverted an individualist as possible and still function very well in society. I “passed” many of accepted social ‘norms’ through accomplishments such as parenthood (a father), a college graduate, and I served society as a member of the military and in the field of law enforcement as a public servant. Whenever I put on my uniform as a government employee, soldier, LEO, or even during sports, I became less of an individual and more of an altruistic member of society with a sense of pride and purpose for the greater good and cooperative accomplishment. Individualism and free-spiritedness are extremely important to me and have been since my early childhood to now. However, during the formative years of education and through the legal age (age of majority for most jurisdictions) of 18-years-old, children must conform to acceptable disciplinary and legal norms of society. Otherwise, a well functioning society cannot exist and prosper. The majority of the children who make it through these societal constraints of conformity will become productive citizens once they are ‘turned loose’ on society at the age of 18 (or after high school graduation) when they enter the workforce or attend college. Bear in mind that those kids were and are still free to express their First and Second Amendment rights outside of school to the extent that they do not violate local, state, and federal laws.

    Imagine any of the many necessary functions of society including schools, college, business, military, Congress, the Presidency, and the judicial system et al. without enforceable rules, regulations, laws, and decorum based on oaths of office and codes of ethics. Today, others and I are acknowledging the decline of those societal functions because of abuses, misinterpretations, and biased legislation of the U.S. Constitution and the Amendments through the actions of partisan demagogues and the ‘I can do and say whatever I want whenever–by gawd’–type crowd as illustrated in the T-shirt article.

    I interpret what I consider the decline of our society, the current economic crisis, and the USAs world standing as a fundamental lack of early education discipline and the concurrent disobedience of adults to oaths, principles, ethics, and honor. Human nature is elementally flawed and a society founded on ethical standards of justice and fairness, although imperfect, is the only means of fulfilling the concept the founders expressed in the U.S. Constitution. Alternatively, perhaps we humans are so biased, corrupt, and self-serving that our best constitutional days are behind us after a relatively brief exhibition of what I considered a society that respected and followed the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the subsequent 17 Amendments.

    The concept of ‘draconian’ parochial school-type uniforms and strict discipline in public school systems are both most likely unattainable concepts in today’s ‘anything goes’ society. However, the current spate of objectionable religious or secular T-shirt slogans and show-and-tell loaded guns in school would be nonissues.

    Coincidently, our society might incrementally improve as an ancillary bonus from fair, firm adolescent discipline and school uniform and conduct codes that help instill a sense of self-respect, respect for others, societal altruism, and knowledge that violating rules, regulations, laws, oaths, and codes of ethics carry the consequences of fair and just punishment.

  3. Rafflaw:

    If all it takes is a T-Shirt to support the troops our empire would span from Washington to Bejing and back again.

  4. I am amazed that using the word bullshit with an administrator only entitled the student to a two hour detention! I would have suspended him or given him about two weeks of duties around the school after normal hours. I am usually not a fan of the banning of expressions on shirts, but I do understand why the court thinks it would not be appropriate in school. My wife who is a long time middle school teacher informs me daily of the crazy shirtsand outfits parents allow students to wear to school. It does sound like Mr. Moritzen has definitely been listening to the Bush regime’s talking points about “supporting the troops”.

  5. There’s an interesting window into the soul of your basic neo-con parent in this case. Here’s a little excerpt from the opinion detailing some of the relevant facts. While I am a fervent supporter of the individual rights (including the First Amendment rights at issue here), these parents (and this kid) might make me rethink my support of the substantive right for all to raise offspring:

    “[Assistant Principal Mortizen]advised Donald that the T-shirt violated those rules. Donald responded that his parents
    would “freak out” if he were not permitted to wear the
    shirt to school.

    When Mr. Moritzen directed Donald to go to the restroom
    and turn the T-shirt inside out, Donald stood up, and as he
    walked out the door stated: “This is bullshit.” Donald was then
    issued a two-hour detention by Mr. Moritzen for the use of foul
    language and failure to follow direction.

    The next day at approximately 11:30 a.m., Mr. and Mrs.
    Miller went to Penn Manor High School to discuss the situation
    regarding Donald’s T-shirt with Mr. Moritzen. Mr. Miller was
    very upset about Mr. Moritzen making Donald turn his T-shirt
    inside out. Mr. Moritzen reviewed the relevant sections of the
    Student Handbook with the Millers and explained that Donald’s T-shirt violated the School District’s dress code policy, that the
    T-shirt promoted violence and was unacceptable clothing in the
    high school.

    Mr. Moritzen further explained that the school
    administration believed that the message of the T-shirt advocated
    hunting human beings and that the image on the T-shirt was akin
    to a deer hunting license. Mr. Moritzen asked Mr. Miller if he
    understood the purpose of a deer hunting license. Mr. Miller responded that it was to “harvest” deer. When asked how he would
    “harvest” deer, Mr. Miller, did not respond.

    Mr. Miller became visibly upset with the questions
    being asked by Mr. Moritzen. Mr. Miller removed a piece of paper
    from his pocket and slammed it down on Mr. Moritzen’s desk. Mr.
    Miller then told Mr. Moritzen that Mr. Moritzen could write to
    the soldier currently serving in Iraq, whose address was on the
    piece of paper, and explain to him how he, Mr. Moritzen, was not
    being supportive of the troops in Iraq by not allowing Donald to
    wear his T-shirt in school.”

Comments are closed.