SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon student suspended for wearing a “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.” T-shirt has sued his school, claiming the punishment violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
According to a complaint filed May 18 in Oregon District Court, Addison Barnes wore the shirt to a Liberty High School class where a discussion of immigration issues was scheduled. The shirt also featured the words, “The wall just got 10 feet taller,” a reference to a 2016 remark by President Donald Trump.
Building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was a campaign promise from Trump, who has continued to advocate for the project even amid logistical and budgetary questions about its feasibility. Opponents have cast the proposal as contrary to the central role of immigrants in U.S. history and culture, while proponents call it a necessary deterrent to illegal immigration and smuggling.
According to the complaint, a school official summoned Barnes after he entered the classroom wearing the shirt, and told him that at least one student and one teacher had been offended by the shirt. Barnes covered the shirt and returned to class, but later removed the covering.
After that, school officials sent a security guard to the class to remove Barnes, and told him to cover the shirt or go home for the rest of the day. School officials treated his departure as a suspension, according to the complaint.
Officials at Liberty High School, about 40 minutes outside of Portland, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The case’s subject matter isn’t its only political facet: One of Barnes’ lawyers, Mike McLane, is also the leader of the Republican minority in Oregon’s House of Representatives.
McLane did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Federal courts have ruled on political clothing in schools before, sometimes in favor of protecting controversial views.
In a landmark 1969 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of students who had been suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, and specifically held that controversial political clothing couldn’t be banned from schools out of “a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”
But the high court said in the same ruling schools could prohibit clothing that interferes with school discipline, and lower courts have allowed some restrictions.
In a 2015 case, a district court judge blocked a Tennessee school from enforcing a prohibition on clothing with a gay pride theme, after school officials said a student couldn’t wear a shirt that read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.” But federal courts have repeatedly upheld school bans on confederate flags, often on the basis that they could predictably lead to disruptions in communities recovering from segregation.
The Liberty High School student handbook, posted on the school’s website, includes a rule that “only appropriate sayings or pictures are acceptable” on students’ clothes, but mentions no specifics.
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