A Liberty High School senior is suing his school, the principal and school district, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when he was told by an administrator to go home or cover up a T-shirt that promoted President Donald Trump’s demand for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Addison Barnes is seeking an injunction stopping the Hillsboro School District from enforcing school dress codes “in a manner inconsistent with” the First Amendment and an order allowing him to wear the banned shirt to Liberty High School. The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, also seeks an undisclosed amount of money in damages.
The shirt’s logo: “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.” Under the logo it said, “The wall just got 10 feet taller.”
Barnes wore the shirt sometime this school year to his first period “People and Politics” class, where immigration was going to be the topic of discussion, the lawsuit said. Assistant principal Amanda Ryan-Fear took Barnes out of the class and told him to cover the shirt because at least one other student and a teacher said they were offended by it.
Barnes covered the shirt and returned to class, but then decided to uncover it minutes later. Ryan-Fear sent a security guard to escort the teen from class to her office, the lawsuit said.
According to the court document, Ryan-Fear threatened Barnes with suspension for “defiance” and reiterated that he couldn’t wear the shirt because it offended students. Barnes was told to cover up the shirt for the rest of the day or go home. He chose to go home, the lawsuit said.
“This was unconstitutional,” the lawsuit said. “The First Amendment protects students’ right to speak on political or societal issues — including the right to express what school officials may consider unpopular or controversial opinions, or viewpoints that might make other students uncomfortable.”
Barnes’ decision to leave the school was initially noted as a suspension, but that was changed after Barnes and his father met with Ryan-Fear and Principal Greg Timmons a few days later. Barnes was told not to wear the shirt to school again or he could be subject to discipline, including suspension.
The shirt didn’t considerably disrupt or interfere with work at the school or the rights of other students, the lawsuit said. Barnes was trying to “comment on a national debate about a serious political and societal issue,” through his attire, according to the court papers.
The lawsuit said the school has allowed opposite viewpoints on immigration. One of Barnes’ teachers once displayed a sign in front of the classroom that said, “Sanctuary City, Welcome Home.”
The ideas conveyed by the sign could have caused students including Barnes to be offended, threatened or uncomfortable, the lawsuit said.
“By muffling one side of the debate while allowing the other side to magnify their voice with a megaphone, Defendants’ actions constitute viewpoint-based discrimination.”
The Hillsboro School District declined comment on the lawsuit Monday. Among the attorneys representing Barnes is Oregon House Minority Leader Republican Michael McLane.
— Everton Bailey Jr.
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