According to the Merced Sun-Star, a trial date has been set for August 31, 2010, in Fresno, Ca, for a free speech case involving a girl who claims to have been forced by school administrators to remove her anti-abortion T-shirt. The shirt – which the girl wore during "National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day" in 2008 – featured two sonograms of a growing fetus, and a third photo of a black frame, with the caption, "Growing…growing…gone," below the photos.
The girl’s mother claims that:
"An unidentified cafeteria worker told Amador’s daughter to throw her food away and report to the principal’s office. In the office, a district employee allegedly grabbed the girl’s arm and led her into the principal’s office where the assistant principal and principal were waiting, according to the case file. Finally, Amador claimed school officials told the girl to remove her T-shirt and instructed her not to wear the shirt to school again."
The school district denies that anyone grabbed the girl’s arm, and claims in court documents that their actions were "taken and conducted within the appropriate duties and obligations to provide an environment conducive for learning, as well as a safe environment for students."
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Free speech rights in school are tricky, and the few widely known cases offer judges a fair amount of room to interpret what is deemed acceptable. In Tinker v. Des Moines (the Vietnam War-era case where students sued after being reprimanded for wearing armbands to protest the war) found that the First Amendment rights protected symbolic "pure speech" protests, so long as they didn’t cause a "substantial disruption of the school’s education mission."
In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (which dealt with sexual innuendo within a student’s campaign speech) the Court upheld that "administrators ought to have the discretion to punish student speech that violates school rules and has the tendency to interfere with legitimate educational and disciplinary objectives." In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Court elaborated by finding that certain subjects (like student pregnancy) violated student privacy rights, and that administrators could censor such things.
Should this case make its way to the Supreme Court, the implications could be far-reaching; if a student isn’t allowed to demonstrate against abortion, students might similarly not be allowed to demonstrate pro-choice beliefs. But also, should students be allowed to demonstrate against abortion on school property, this could be emotionally damaging to other students who may have had abortions. It could make school a more hostile environment. This will be a case to keep an eye on.