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Judicial Watch • Public School Students Punished for Wearing U.S. Flag T-Shirts

Public School Students Punished for Wearing U.S. Flag T-Shirts

Public School Students Punished for Wearing U.S. Flag T-Shirts

OCTOBER 18, 2013

Only in Obama’s America do public school students get in trouble—and sent home—for wearing T-shirts sporting an American flag because it may offend their Mexican counterparts.

The shirts were considered “incendiary” by administrators at a northern California high school because there had been ethnic tension between Mexican and white students in the past. When five boys wore shirts with U.S. flags on Cinco de Mayo, observed as a celebration of Mexican heritage, tension escalated and threats of trouble circulated.

Mexican students claimed they felt “disrespected” and like they were being put down by their peers wearing the American flag on their special day. One of the boys who got sent home said an administrator told him they were “supposed to respect their Mexican culture.” Even the famously liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found this outrageous, calling it “censorship” and a violation of rights protected by the California education code as well as the U.S. Constitution.

The students were ordered to turn their shirts inside out or go home and later sued the school for violating their free speech and equal protections rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This was in 2010 and a federal judge canned the lawsuit in late 2011, ruling that a perceived threat of violence vindicated the principal’s decision. Furthermore, the court ruled that administrators have wide legal latitude to ensure the safety and effective operation of their campus.

The boys, who have since graduated, appealed and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to consider the case. A three-judge panel heard arguments this week, but there’s no indication when a ruling will be issued. A local newspaper covered arguments and provides links for briefs filed by both sides. The students argue that it’s a First Amendment issue and the school district insists it’s a safety issue, that administrators were preventing violence.   

Let’s see how it all plays out in the minds of the judges who sit on a notoriously liberal appellate court. The 9th Circuit is also well known for being the most overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bottom line in this case is best described by a law and free speech professor (Eugene Volokh) at one of California’s premier public universities: “The fact of the matter is that these Americans were punished for wearing the American flag at an American school.”

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