Liberty High School senior sues district over Trump shirt
A student at Liberty High School in Hillsboro is suing his school, the Hillsboro School District and the school's principal after he was told to stop wearing a pro-Donald Trump shirt to class.
Senior Addison Barnes filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday, May 18, alleging that teachers and administrators at the school had violated his First Amendment right to express himself when he wore an anti-immigration shirt to a political science class earlier this year.
On Jan. 19, Barnes arrived at school, located at 7445 N.E. Wagon Way, in Hillsboro, dressed in a shirt which bore the words "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.," and one of the president most famous quotes from the campaign trail, "The Wall Just Got 10 Feet Taller." Barnes wore the shirt in support of Trump's policies on immigration and Homeland Security.
Building a wall between the United States and Mexico was a pillar of many of Trump's campaign speeches. The construction of the wall has remained a controversial topic since Trump took office more than a year ago.
Barnes reportedly wore the shirt to a political science class, where students discussed immigration as part of the lesson.
During the class, the school's assistant principal, Amanda Ryan-Fear, reportedly removed Barnes from the classroom and told him to cover the shirt because a student and a teacher in the school had claimed to be offended by it.
Barnes initially covered the shirt, but later changed his mind, believing that his First Amendment rights to peacefully express his political views were being violated, according to the lawsuit,
When the assistant principal returned to the class later that period and saw Barnes continuing the wear the shirt in public, Barnes was reportedly removed from class by a school security guard. School officials threatened to suspend the student for up to 10 days for defying school administrators, according to the lawsuit.
School officials told Barnes that students at the school were offended by the message the shirt conveyed, and told him not to wear the shirt to class.
"Given the choice to cover his shirt or go home for the rest of the day, Barnes chose to go home," the lawsuit read. School officials treated his absence as a suspension.
The school later rescinded the suspension, but officials at the school told Barnes he would be disciplined if he wore the shirt to school again.
The lawsuit alleges that the school's actions toward him were unconstitutional. Students have the right to speak on political or societal issues, the lawsuit said, regardless of whether others at the school find those opinions unpopular or controversial.
"Barnes' shirt did not substantially disrupt or materially interfere with the work of the school or the rights of his fellow students," the lawsuit reads. "The shirt did not promote or advocate illegal activity; it contained no violent or offensive imagery; nothing on it was obscene, vulgar, or profane. Through his shirt, Barnes sought to convey his views on a national debate about a serious political and societal issue."
Barnes' attorney Mike McLane said the First Amendment protects all speech, not just the beliefs people agree with.
"If people are offended by his shirt, that's their right to be offended," McLane said. "But it's also his right to have his opinion, as well. The constitutional line isn't who's offended. The constitutional line is there a specific and clear disturbance being created by the expression of the student's political speech."
According to the lawsuit, the school allowed others to make political statements about immigration, while banning his shirt.
One teacher at the school prominently displayed a sign in the classroom reading "Sanctuary City, Welcome Home." Hillsboro city officials voted to name the town a "sanctuary city" in 2017, a decision that Barnes found offensive.
"By muffling one side of the debate while allowing the other side to magnify their voice with a megaphone, (Hillsboro School District's) actions constitute viewpoint-based discrimination," the lawsuit said.
According to the Hillsboro School District's student code of conduct, students have a general right to freedom of expression and are allowed to express their opinions publicly, provided they don't disrupt class.
"Students may support causes by orderly means that do not disrupt other individuals or the operation of the school," the code of conduct reads. "In the classroom, students are free to examine views offered in any course of study, provided such examination is expressed in a responsible manner."
According to Barnes, he has continued to face hostility in the wake of the incident. Last month, a student at the school making a documentary about the First Amendment interviewed Barnes, who wore the shirt in the video.
Teachers at the school directed the student to blur the content of the shirt before it would be uploaded to a school website.
The lawsuit asks that the court to declare that Barnes' rights had been violated, and force the Hillsboro School District to allow Barnes to wear the shirt to school.
"He has a right to free speech, just like liberals have the right to free speech," McLane said.
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