A T-shirt with a slogan like this bumper sticker has caused trouble for a student in Pennsylvania
First, there was the piece of paper that could go off, then it was the “loaded” ballpoint, and now there’s the silk-screened image on a T-shirt that poses a danger.
A Pennsylvania student who wore a T-shirt to school to express his support for the American war on terror and to honor his uncle, a warrior in the battle, has been told he cannot do that.
At issue is a decision by Donald Miller III to wear to his school in the Penn Manor School District a T-shirt with the following slogans on the front and back:
“Volunteer Homeland Security” and “Special issue – Resident – Lifetime License United States Terrorist Hunting Permit – Permit No. 91101 Gun Owner – No Bag Limit”
The shirt also had a silk-screened image of a handgun silhouette. And all that, according to the school, broke several rules.
“It’s the district’s position the wording on the T-shirt advocated violation of the law and acts of violence,” Supt. Donald Stewart told WND.
“The student was asked to either remove or reverse the T-shirt,” he continued. “The case is currently being litigated, and Penn Manor School District feels it’s taken an appropriate stance in terms of T-shirts or anything a student would wear that advocates acts of violence.”
Stewart said the student was given detention, but that was a result of his “behavior” in the school office, not the T-shirt.
However, Miller’s attorney, Leonard G. Brown III of Clymer & Musser, P.C., told WND it simply was a case of a student wanting to wear a message in support of his uncle, who is serving in Iraq.
“On Dec. 4, 2007, Mr. Miller wore a T-shirt to school which expressed his patriotic support for his uncle and the other American service men and women fighting against terrorists overseas,” the lawsuit says.
“The T-shirt in question was purchased at the PX (Post Exchange) at Fort Benning, Ga., and was a gift to Donald before the uncle’s deployment to Iraq. His uncle is currently in Iraq and serving on the front line in the war against terror helping to build a democratic society and eliminate America’s enemies,” says the complaint.
“Donald Miller wears the T-shirt to make the political and emotional statements that he supports his uncle, and all our armed forces, as they bravely exercise their duty to defend this great nation.”
The lawyer said the action seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions and other relief for the alleged violations of Miller’s freedom of expression, speech and due process of law.
He said the T-shirt didn’t advocate anything illegal. The U.S. itself, he noted, is in the process of hunting down terrorists, and in fact has offered rewards of millions of dollars for the apprehension of some of the most dangerous, including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
“[Miller] openly and proudly identifies himself as a patriotic American who supports America’s military…,” the lawsuit said. “He believes that it is the duty of every American to protect this country and do what they can to honor and support our brave service men and women.
“Plaintiff further believes that he has the right to speak up and express his support for the Department of Homeland Security and to convince others of the need to defeat the terrorists who seek to harm America,” it continued.
“Plaintiff fears that defendants will continue to censor and threaten punishment against him simply for expressing his political beliefs and engaging in symbolic activities reflecting those beliefs,” it said.
The lawsuit additionally asserts the school’s policies are vague and conflict with case law in Pennsylvania.
“[The school] policy essentially makes a student’s patriotic expressions subordinate to a teacher’s or administrator’s subjective interpretation of a vague policy. Additionally, PMSD has implemented additional unconstitutional policies which prohibit a student from expressing his firmly held religious beliefs regarding the ‘supremacy of a particular religion, denomination, sect, or point of view,’ or expressing an ‘inappropriate’ viewpoint that ‘is a distraction to the educational environment.’
“High schools in American are not enclaves of totalitarianism,” the lawsuit said, and the district is not only violating the speech and religion rights of students, it also “has implemented an Orwellian dress code and speech code that … allows the unfettered discretion of government actors” to suppress speech, discussion and expression of “constitutionally protected and unabashedly pro-American opinions,” the action said.
One school policy, for example, allows the “faculty and administration” to step in if someone “feel[s]” a student is displaying poor taste in appearance.
The school district’s lawyer, Robert M. Frankhouser Jr. said in a letter that the T-shirt violates a school ban on clothing “that advocates the use of force or urges the violation of law or school regulations.”
“The shirt in question contains the image of a firearm and clearly advocates illegal behavior. The district is confident that its position on this issue is appropriate in light of the contours of First Amendment jurisprudence and the pedagogical mission of the school,” he said.
In the pen incident, a student was threatened with a three-day suspension for bringing to campus, and using, a pen with the corporate logo of the Glock company, a large stylized “G” with the letters “lock” inside.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and the father reports he was successful in convincing school officials to withdraw not only the threat but the formal reprimand that had been placed in his son’s educational file.