(The Center Square) – Two Michigan students sued their school district for viewpoint discrimination after they were banned from wearing apparel implicitly critical of President Joe Biden.
In February 2022, two Tri County Middle School students wore sweatshirts to school with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” a political slogan critical of Biden with origins in a more profane chant.
“Criticism of the president is core political speech protected by the First Amendment,” according to Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. Fitzgerald is representing the students. “Whether it’s a Biden sticker, ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ sweatshirt or gay pride T-shirt, schools can’t pick and choose which political beliefs students can express.”
The lawsuit claims the incident shows a pattern of political favoritism by the school district. When the school district relaxed the dress code for field day, a school administrator ordered a student to stop wearing a Trump flag as a cape but permitted other students to wear gay pride flags in the same manner, according to the lawsuit.
The political slogan has been used in Congressional floor speeches, but an assistant principal and a teacher ordered the boys to remove the sweatshirts. However, administrators allowed students to wear apparel with other political messages, including gay-pride-themed hoodies.
The complaint names Assistant Principal Andrew Buikema and teacher Wendy Bradford. The lawsuit says the school district wrongly relies on a policy that prohibits “profane” clothing to censor this particular message, but FIRE’s lawsuit argues that prohibiting the students from wearing the “Let’s Go Brandon” sweatshirts violates the First Amendment.
“The slogan exists as a way to express an anti-Biden message without using profanity,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “A public school district cannot censor speech just because it might cause someone to think about a swear word.”
The district hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
This is FIRE’s first lawsuit on behalf of K-12 students. FIRE’s lawsuit seeks a court order blocking the school district’s viewpoint-discriminatory ban on “Let’s Go Brandon” apparel and a provision of its dress code banning students from wearing clothing that “calls undue attention” to the student.
This case parallels the 1969 Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the Supreme Court affirmed public school students’ First Amendment right to wear black armbands to school protesting the Vietnam War. The court stressed that students disagreeing with each other is not only “an inevitable part of the process of attending school; it is also an important part of the educational process.”
“These students should not only be allowed to express their political beliefs, but should be encouraged to do so,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal said in a statement. “America’s students must be free to exercise their constitutional rights, not just learn about them.”
FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought.