16 students were suspended for wearing black armbands as part of a silent, peaceful protest against their government school’s highly restrictive uniform policy. With the help of the ACLU, three students and their parents are now suing the school district and school board officials. They want the court to clear the students’ records and remove any other punishment for the protest.
Parents and students had strongly opposed the uniform policy prior to the protest. One parent even handed out more than 200 armbands to students. When school administrators learned of the protest, they announced that those who wear armbands would receive three-day suspensions. Despite the threat, many of the students still wore the armbands. As they arrived at school, they were directed into a room with a sheriff and two deputies, and they subsequently received suspensions.
ACLU attorney said, “When government officials try to intimidate people from exercising their free speech rights, and punish them because they don’t like what they have to say, it’s a serious free speech violation. The students who had the courage to wear a simple armband are faced with failing grades and exclusion from school activities. Watson Chapel School District has had every chance to prevent this, but they have refused to correct their mistakes. These parents have no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect their children’s rights.”
The case is related to a 1969 court decision known asÂ “Tinker” in which the United States Supreme Court stated the symbolic speech and peaceful expression is protected by the First Amendment.
Clearly, the school administrators did not take History 101. They not only overlooked the Tinker court decision. They also forgot why all of us are here in America: we want freedom. We want the right to free expression. And when some brazen, out-of-touch, control-freak government officials try to repress us, we want to the right to protest peacefully. Fortunately, we still have the right to sue these officials.