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From patriotism -- To religion

There was once a time when students got in hot water for things like wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Today's students are standing up for their right to express very different messages.

Take the case of John Spindler, a 9th-grade student at Valley View Junior High School in Simi Valley, Calif.

To reduce the threat of violence, the school has adopted a dress code that requires shirts "with no writing or pictures." The only exception is for school "spirit shirts."

Last month, Mr. Spindler wore a T-shirt depicting an American flag, a bald eagle, and the letters "U.S.A."

The principal, Don Gaudioso, promptly barred him from classes. Mr. Spindler began wearing the shirt every day, each time asking whether he would be allowed to attend classes that day. The principal has refused.

Earlier this month, Mr. Spindler sued the principal and Simi Valley board members, arguing that the dress code violates his First Amendment right of free expression. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing him.

School administrators stand by the policy and will defend it in court, said Mary Beth Wolford, the superintendent.

In Case No. 2, Lupe Juarez, a 14-year-old student at Central Middle School in Devils Lake, N.D., got into hot water last month for wearing a T-shirt with the word "hell" printed on it. She was told not to wear it again.

The trouble is, the word "hell" on the shirt was part of a religious message, and the school district soon heard from the American Center for Law and Justice, the legal organization founded by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Ms. Juarez's shirt read: "Turn or Burn, Fly or Fry, Live or Die; Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. If you can't take the heat, stay out of Hell."

The "hell" quote paraphrases the biblical Book of Revelation, Ms. Juarez's lawyers pointed out, and the T-shirt amounts to religious expression protected by the First Amendment.

Devils Lake school officials quickly backed down. "You can be assured that the Central Middle School did not intend to in any way restrict Lupe Juarez's right to engage in religious expression," the district's lawyer wrote to the A.C.L.J.

--Mark Walsh

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