Let's say a student wore a shirt in a New York school that said "I✡️JQ", and the school principal ordered him to stop wearing it because it was offensive and he complied. But later came back with a shirt that said "Made in the USA With technology engineered in Europe" and refused to stop wearing it and was suspended, can get an injunction against the school to protect his freedom of expression?

  • On what basis was the student suspended? What does the handbook say? Is this a public or private school? Does the school have a specific dress code?
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 27, 2020 at 19:40
  • 1
    What does "JQ" stand for?
    – Ben I.
    Jul 27, 2020 at 20:11
  • I believe when the principle was talking to him about the second shirt the student accused the man of having an advent calendar of minibar sized kosher wines with one window for each percentage decline in the US white population until whites are a minority in America. He also occasionally erupts into racial epithet screeds but claims it is due to Tourette's. Although no medical professional has made a diagnosis.
    – Oliver
    Jul 27, 2020 at 20:48
  • In my daughter's high school civics class - and I hope everyone else's - they studied Tinker; the case about black arm bands during the Vietnam war. It ruled that " students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” aclu.org/other/… Aug 2, 2020 at 1:35

2 Answers 2


Option 1 is that this is a private school. The school can establish whatever rules they want. There might be a cause of action for breach of contract, but more likely there is some clause saying "You have to do what the principal tells you". Private organizations are allowed to completely suppress you freedom of expression. Option 2 is that this is a public school, in which case they are bound by the First Amendment (which is a limit on government action). Such a prohibition is legally untenable, but you may have to go to court to get an official ruling on the matter. If speech is objectively disruptive, it can be limited, but your examples are not objectively offensive or disruptive, they are simply somewhat provocative. Here is a summary from the ACLU of what public schools can't do w.r.t. student appearance.

  • What about parochial schools? If my buddy feels sorry for this student, so his sect opens a parochial school and allows this student's shirts, but average student body takes offense to violent political movements, so they prohibit BLM shirts from being worn, does that violate the political neutrality requirement? And what about the reverse situation?
    – Oliver
    Jul 27, 2020 at 20:37
  • 5
    Parochial schools are private schools. There is no neutrality requirement.
    – user6726
    Jul 27, 2020 at 21:07
  • To clarify, I mean a religious sect that qualifies for 501(c)(3) status and wants to maintain tax-free status.
    – Oliver
    Jul 27, 2020 at 21:23
  • 4
    @Oliver You can be a private organization and 501(c)(3) at the same time. They don't have a duty to allow freedom of expression just because they are a religious or charitable organization.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 27, 2020 at 23:06
  • 1
    I'm not sure that this relates to the original question. I'm sure that it is a separate question whether a charitable organization can express a question for a specific political candidate.
    – user6726
    Jul 28, 2020 at 16:37

Im no legal expert but I will say this...

Even in public schools, there is a dress code. No gang symbols, modesty, etc. If youre distracting students with your "speech" then youre not helping the educational environment. Generally I think bringing divisive politics into an academic or job setting is grossly unprofessional and irresponsible, a petty cry for attention. I think you are there to learn, but if youre there to preach then youre not interested in learning. And youre not interested in learning that you could be wrong. I think speech is protected by the Constitution, but only protects you from the federal government... not from state or local government (unless repeated by the state constitution), nor from principles or school dress codes. Even as an entity funded by the federal government, public schools are not government bodies, principles are not federal employees, and the purpose of the school is to create an environment conducive to education for all students. More over legal protections arent really applicable since there is no real criminal punitive measure for disobedience; all punishments are administrative. Any form of propaganda (including indoctrination from teachers) should be removed from campuses. I think there is a time and a place for speech that doesnt have to be worn on ones person during the entire academic day. I think speech requires the written and spoken word, open debate and a willingness to have a rational, civil, and cogent dialogue... and cannot and should not be construed for all forms of one-sided expression. Nor is your willingness to do any of that indicated by turning your body into a bulletin board for a slogan. A debate is not welcomed by those unwilling to engage (but they equally cannot avoid being confronted - ergo youre being deliberately antagonistic), nor is it welcomed as a matter of practical use of the teachers and students time for curricula. I think that students who deliberately and repeatedly disrupt the classroom should expect expulsion as a worst case scenario, and I think the school would be well within their legal right. I think that as a minor, especially, ones rights - even constitutional rights - are rightfully limited. If you cant vote at 16, what makes you think you have a legitimate right to free speech inside a public classroom during school hours?

  • 1
    To your last question, the ruling of the Supreme Court of the U.S. How do you fit the landmark Supreme Court Tinker decision, that was directly on point, into your thinking as well as the incorporation doctrine based on the 14th amendment and subsequent SCOTUS cases? It seems to me that your answer is what you wish the law was rather than explaining the actual state of the law. That makes it a poor answer. Aug 2, 2020 at 4:32
  • I never said I was a lawyer. And I never said the SCOTUS had it right or was ever "on point". The 1st Amendment talks about speech, and in the original context of our forefathers it had a particular meaning and purpose. Wearing short shorts isnt one of them. My originalist interpretation is pretty on point. I dont see how its unreasonable to expect a classroom environment meant for children to be made conducive to healthy, happy, undistracted learning. That is the sole purpose of the public school system. Aug 2, 2020 at 4:35
  • Do you have a cite for the idea that one doesn't have full protection of the constitution until some age? Aug 2, 2020 at 4:36
  • Voting is a perfect counter example of not being treated as a full citizen, afforded all the rights and protections of every other citizen, due solely to ones age. Aug 2, 2020 at 4:36
  • My reading of that comment is you understand that you posted semi-rant about how you wish the world was, not an answer to the question, and don't care. Aug 2, 2020 at 4:40

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