There is an interesting free speech case brewing in West Virginia where Jared Marcum, 14, has been criminally charged for refusing to remove a T-shirt with National Rifle Association’s logo and hunting rifle. The T-shirt was found in violation of Logan Middle School’s dress code. However, regardless of how you feel about gun rights, the T-shirt was the expression of a recognized constitutional right and constitutes political speech.
Marcum was waiting in line for lunch when a teacher ordered him to remove the T-shirt or to turn it inside out. He refused and was sent to the principal’s office. The police were called and Marcum insisted that there is no rule prohibiting the T-Shirt. He said that the officer told him to sit down and, when he continued to assert his rights, he was arrested.
He was charged him with disrupting an educational process and obstructing an officer. The charges sound suspicious since if he made any serious effort to resist, he would have been charged with resisting arrest and assault of an officer.
The dress code itself prohibits clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexually suggestive phrases. I do not see how this fits any more than a T-shirt proclaiming evolution as a theory or peace as a movement.
The dress code does prohibit advertisements for any alcohol, tobacco, or drug product but that would not fit this case.
T-Shirts have long been the target of attempted censorship. In Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971), the United States Supreme Court case overturned a man’s conviction for disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket that displayed the phrase, “Fuck the Draft” in a courthouse. Students have also received such protection. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the Supreme Court supported the first amendment rights of Iowa residents John F. Tinker (15 years old), John’s younger sister Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), and their friend Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old) in wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In his majority decision, Justice Abe Fortas held that “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.” In a statement would would seem to fit this case, Fortas found that “the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred.”
Of course, since Tinker, the Supreme Court has steadily limited the speech rights of students as in the ruling in the “Bong Hits For Jesus” case. Ironically, this trend might be slowed by a case where the expression concerns second amendment rights. However, it is hard to believe that the district will persist in this arrest. Unfortunately, it is also part of a trend toward the criminalization of our schools where disciplinary issues are now being handed over to the police.
This seems a case of over-reaction by a teacher and a failure of the school administrators to take steps to deal appropriately with this issue short of an arrest.
Source: Daily Mail