NRA T-Shirt Banned From School for Promoting Violence

Photo by Jeb BullwinklePhoto by Jeb BullwinkleLast month Haley Bullwinkle, a sophomore at
Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, California, was ordered to
change out of a National Rifle Association T-shirt, which a guard
claimed violated the school’s dress code by encouraging violence.
How so? It included an image of a hunter holding a rifle. The
that Canyon High’s clothing rules do not actually mention images of
hunters or guns, instead banning attire that “promotes or depicts:
gang, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, violence, criminal activity,
obscenity, [or] the degrading of cultures, ethnicity, gender,
religion and/or ethnic values.” Haley’s father, Jeb, an NRA member,
wonders why the T-shirt was deemed too violent when the school’s
color guard parades with wooden rifles and its crest features
spears. “Students don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the
door,” observes a lawyer retained by Bullwinkle. “We’re looking for
[the school] to acknowledge that this T-shirt and T-shirts like it
aren’t banned by school policy.”

How long do you think that will take? The typical pattern in
cases like this is for school officials to stubbornly defend a
stupid decision right up until the moment they fold, presumably
after consulting with their lawyers. While school officials have
considerable leeway in maintaining discipline and good order, the
courts are not likely to look kindly on speech restrictions that
smack of politically motivated censorship. In the 1969 case

Tinker v. Des Moines School District
, the Supreme Court
upheld the First Amendment right of high school students to wear
black arm bands in protest of the Vietnam War. More recently, in
the 2007 case
Morse v. Frederick
, the Court said a student could be
punished for displaying a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at an
off-campus event. But the rationale in the latter case was that the
banner promoted illegal drug use. By contrast, it cannot reasonably
be argued that Haley Bullwinkle’s NRA T-shirt (above) advocated
criminal activity.

She was probably smart not to insist on her First Amendment
rights at the time, however. As Zenon Evans
here last June, a West Virginia student who refused to
comply with an order to remove his NRA T-shirt was suspended,
arrested, and charged with “obstructing an officer.” The charge was

in August. In that case, as in this one, the school’s
dress code made no mention of firearms, although it did ban
“clothing and accessories that display…violence.” The kid’s shirt
featured a rifle and the slogan “NRA: Protect your