We previously discussed the free speech implications of the arrest of a student for wearing a NRA tee shirt to school. Now we have another case of a student, Shane Kinney, 16, who has been disciplined for wearing his NRA tee-shirt to the Grand Island High School. Once again, it is not clear why this tee shirt falls under the school’s written prohibition and appears to be content-based censorship by the school.
Shane is an avid hunter and his family are NRA members. His tee shirt depicts the second amendment and the logo for the NRA. He was told to take it off or turn it inside out. He refused and was disciplined with a one-day suspension. He was technically disciplined for the refusal, but there still remains the issue of censorship.
I would hope that the school would not force a student to remove an ACLU/First Amendment tee shirt. The Second Amendment has now been recognized as another individual right like free speech for citizens. The problem was the NRA logo with two guns on it. However, it is hard to see how such an image would “disrupt or interfere with the educational process” or “encourage …violent activities.”
The Kinney’s have said that they will not push the issue and their son will not wear such shirts to the school in the future. They called this a “learning opportunity.” However, I am a bit worried about the lesson being taught. Shane stood up for his right to free speech and I still do not see the basis for the ban on the tee shirt. The lesson appears to be that you have to comply with the arbitrary, content-based restrictions of the government.
The Grand Island School District recognizes this matter as an opportunity to review its policies, procedures and actions to ensure that they are consistent with our commitment to provide a safe learning environment and protect students’ Constitutional rights.
I reiterate, no student was disciplined for wearing a shirt expressing a position on the NRA or gun control.
That sounds like a bit of a spin if he is being disciplined not for the tee shirt but refusing to remove the tee shirt. That is like the government saying that a blog was not shutdown for its writings but refusing to remove its writings. The original question remains: why is a tee shirt supporting a constitutional right and associating with a large non-for-profit organization prohibited? I would think that students feeling strongly about constitutional rights and active in such organizations would be encouraged rather than prohibited. Presumably, a tee shirt espousing religious or press freedoms would not trigger the same response. I recently wrote a column on the shrinking student free speech rights — a trend that the Supreme Court has accelerated with a serious of wrongheaded opinions, in my view. Regardless of how one feels about the NRA or gun rights, I feel this case reflects that trend and denies students their free expression and associational rights.
What do you think?