A 2010 case that featured three Northern California high school students forced to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out or go home because it was Cinco de Mayo has now reached a three-judge federal appeals court in San Francisco.
The students filed a lawsuit charging that the school violated their rights to free speech and equal protection, but a lower court judge, James Ware, now retired, threw the case out. He ruled that “our Constitution grants public school children only limited First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.”
The year prior to the incident, there were verbal confrontations on Cinco de Mayo at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explained that the case was thrown out because the school could claim a “heckler’s veto.” He continued, “A school may restrict a student’s speech to prevent unruly disruptions.” But he also stated that sometimes administrators can overreact, asserting, “The fact of the matter is that these Americans were punished for wearing the American flag at an American school.”
The students’ lawyers include William J. Becker, Jr. of the Freedom X organization, who said that Ware was “unfortunately too wrapped up in political correctness… Nobody is alleging that any disruption was caused by the shirts. The students in this case were deprived of their Constitutional rights simply by displaying their patriotism.”
Other organizations supporting the students are the Thomas More Law Center and American Freedom Law center.
The school’s lawyers’ argument stated, “This is not a case about the flag, or the First Amendment rights of adults in a public forum. This is a case about whether we allow school administrators, familiar with the circumstances in their schools, to take reasonable steps to protect student safety in the face of threats and a history of violence.”