An Oregon teenager got in trouble with his high school after he wore a T-shirt bearing a message of support for President Donald Trump’s proposal for a wall on the southern border. On Thursday, a federal judge handed him a big win in what had become a fight over free speech.
According to KGW, 18-year-old senior Addison Barnes faced a ten-day suspension in January after he refused to cover or remove his shirt which read “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Company,” and featured the famous Trump quote, “The wall just got 10 feet taller.”
A teacher and at least one student at Hillsboro’s Liberty High School claimed they were offended by Barnes’ shirt, and an assistant principal asked that he cover it up, which he initially did.
He later uncovered the shirt though, as he believed the school was suppressing his First Amendment right to free speech. This resulted in a choice of covering the shirt again or a ten-day suspension for “defiance” and alleged violation of the school’s dress code, as the shirt was deemed “disruptive” to the school setting.
Barnes viewed that as unfair censorship of his political views, as he noted that other political views in opposition to his own were permitted to be expressed in the school by both teachers and other students.
“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.
He filed a lawsuit which argued that the school had violated his First Amendment rights. Even the ACLU of Oregon said Barnes was in the right and the school was wrong to censor him, even as they disapproved of the message conveyed by his “mean-spirited” shirt.
The Oregonian reported this week that Barnes has now been vindicated by a federal judge who issued a temporary restraining order against Liberty High School that prevents it from enforcing its prohibition against Barnes wearing the disputed shirt.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman, after weighing the school’s concern over what they viewed as “disruptive” to an orderly school setting, ruled that the school couldn’t justify censoring the student’s free political speech.
The school had argued that since roughly one-third of the school’s population was Hispanic, the shirt could create a “hostile learning environment,” unlike in other school’s with smaller minority populations.
They also noted how some students had previously engaged in walk-outs and sit-ins in opposition to the president and his immigration policies, which should grant them deference in prohibiting the “disruptive” shirt from being worn, as it might offend those other students.
But the judge countered by asking rhetorically if the First Amendment and the speech it protected varied depending upon the make-up of a particular school.
Attorneys for Barnes argued that the shirt should be considered “pure political speech” and noted that it wasn’t obscene or vulgar, nor did it promote illegal activity or cause any sort of disruption or interference with the school — even if the message was considered “controversial or unpopular” and made other students and teachers feel “uncomfortable.”
The judge ultimately ruled that the shirt constituted “core protected speech” and was no more “substantially disruptive” to an orderly school setting than walk-outs and sit-ins had been.
“There’s not enough to go on here to show that sort of legitimate concern justifying censorship of this core political speech,”Judge Mosman ruled.
It is worth noting that the school had already rescinded the suspension after Barnes’ father had complained, but now their prohibition against his wearing of the T-shirt has been knocked down in a court of law as well, handing both Barnes and pro-Trump students everywhere a major First Amendment victory.
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