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Appeals Court Backs Student’s Right to Shirt Critical of President

By Andrew Trotter — September 06, 2006 1 min read
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A Vermont public school may not block a student from wearing a T-shirt with slogans and images critical of President Bush, even if they include references to drugs and alcohol, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

Zachary Guiles and his parents contended in a lawsuit that officials at Williamstown Middle/High School, in Williamstown, Vt., denied him his constitutional right to political speech by forcing him to put tape over the controversial images on his T-shirt.

The shirt that Zachary, who in 2004 was a 7th grader, wore to school bore the phrase “Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief” under an image of the president with the body of a chicken and capped with a helmet. Other images included lines of cocaine and a razor blade. Mr. Bush was depicted holding a straw in one “wing” and a martini glass in the other.

The shirt also had the word “cocaine,” and phrases such as “World Domination Tour.”

A federal district court in Vermont upheld the school’s censoring of the images but not of the word “cocaine.” On appeal, however, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ruled unanimously in the student’s favor.

Circuit Judge Richard J. Cardamone, the author of the unanimous Aug. 30 decision, said the images were permissible speech because, although they featured drugs and alcohol, they were not lewd, vulgar, indecent, or plainly offensive, nor were they disruptive of school.

A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 2006 edition of Education Week

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