Lawsuit Over Schools’ Restriction on Pro-Gun Shirts Can Go Forward

Lawsuit Over Schools' Restriction on Pro-Gun Shirts Can Go Forward

N.J. v. Sonnabend , decided Friday by Judge William C. Griesbach (E.D. Wisc.) involved two students being told by their schools (Shattuck Middle School and Kettle Moraine High School) that they couldn’t wear these T-shirts: The districts claimed they should win as a matter of law, not on the grounds that the shirts caused some disruption, but on the grounds that the Wisconsin Carry shirt was just too orange they just weren’t protected by the First Amendment: Defendants contend that none of the shirts constitute protected speech primarily because the shirts fail to convey a particularized message, and because two of the shirts are "merely advertisements for companies that happen to have a picture of a firearm on them." … No, said the court: Clothing that bears explicit messages or symbols which are intended to convey a political or other message can clearly amount to speech entitling the wearer to First Amendment protection…. Defendants argue that in order for printed words or pictures on a shirt to receive constitutional protection, the message being conveyed must be clear and unmistakable. But that is not the law…. "[A] narrow, succinctly articulable message is not a condition of constitutional protection." If it was, the First Amendment "would never reach the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schöenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll." Applying these principles to the pleadings in this case, the court concludes that each of the shirts at issue plausibly falls within the protection afforded by […]

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