Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2006
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2006 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Lisa Rathke, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


MONTPELIER, Vt. --A public school's censorship of images on a 
student's politically charged T-shirt violated the student's right to 
free speech, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The three-judge panel overturned a federal court ruling that said the 
Williamstown middle school had authority to ban pictures of drugs and 
alcohol on the shirt that was critical of President Bush.

Principal Kathleen Morris-Kortz had said the images, including 
cocaine and a martini glass, violated the school's dress code policy 
that prohibits clothing that promotes the use of drugs or alcohol.

But the appeals court disagreed.

"We conclude that defendants' censorship of the images on (Zachary) 
Guiles's T-shirt violated his free speech rights," the court ruled.

"The pictures are an important part of the political message that 
Guiles wished to convey, accentuating the anti-drug (and anti-Bush) 
message," the court said.

The court also said the defendants' position was flawed because they 
believed the images were contrary to the school's goal of having an 
anti-drug school environment.

"Defendants principally declare that all images of illegal drugs and 
alcohol -- even images expressing an anti-drug view, such as those on 
Guiles's T-Shirt -- are plainly offensive because they undermine the 
school's anti-drug message. We do not find this argument persuasive," 
the court said.

"We observe in passing that the witness offered did not point to any 
specific evidence showing that anti-drug and alcohol images are 
harmful or lead to the use (or increased abuse) of such substances by 
high school students," the judges said.

The shirt called the president a lying drunk driver who abused 
cocaine and marijuana, and labeled Bush the "chicken-hawk-in-chief" 
who was engaged in a "world domination tour."

Guiles, a seventh grader, was suspended for one day in May of 2004 
when he refused to cover up the pictures of drugs and alcohol after a 
student and parent had complained about the shirt. He had been 
wearing the shirt once a week for two months. The following day he 
wore the shirt with duct tape over the images.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which brought the case 
for the Guiles family, said the judges' ruling made clear that the 
school overstepped its authority when it censored the T-shirt.

"The court's decision is a strong statement for student free-speech 
rights," said Executive Director Allen Gilbert.

Guiles, now 15, said he was pleased with the outcome. "I think this 
is a very good sign that even with the current administration and the 
way the country is going there can still be a justice that allows free speech."

School attorney Tony Lamb and the school principal did not 
immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
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