The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that school officials’ concerns of racial violence outweighed students’ freedom of expression rights. A Northern California high school principal had ordered students wearing American flag t-shirts to turn the shirts inside out during the Mexican heritage celebration Cinco. With a history of racial tension incidents between white and latino students on that day, Live Oak High School administrators were concerned that the students wearing red, white, and blue and shirts bearing the American flag on that day were doing so to provoke racial tensions. In an effort to curb racial tensions, the school implemented the ban on displaying the American flag on the student clothing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous three-judge panel determined that past problems gave school officials sufficient and justifiable reasons for their actions to ensure campus safety. Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote that past events “made it reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real”. Attorneys representing the students who were sent home for refusing to take off or turn inside out the American flag t-shirts they were wearing, said they will request a special 11-judge panel of the appeals court to rehear the case and would appeal the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Recently, school officials in other parts of the country have banned student from wearing t-shirts displaying guns, which has sparked outrage by the NRA and other gun advocacy groups.
Questions are being raised as to whether minor students have lesser constitutional rights than adults. Further, does the threat of violence chill the constitutional right to freedom of expression?
adults. Further, does the threat of violence chill the constitutional right to freedom of expression?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. James Cook says:

    The right to freedom of expression should not be abridged. The school should take steps to assure the safety of the students, without stepping on their first amendment rights.

  2. Thomas Greer says:

    The competing interests of freedom of expression and the safety of students presents a difficult problem for school officials and the courts. Without knowing all of the facts, it looks like the school struck a reasonable balance for this one particular day.

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