MONTPELIER, Vt. – A middle school that censored the anti-drug, anti-Bush message on a student's T-shirt violated the boy's right to free speech, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The shirt bore images of cocaine and a martini glass — in addition to messages calling President Bush a lying drunk driver who abused cocaine and marijuana, and the "chicken-hawk-in-chief" who was engaged in a "world domination tour."
Zachary Guiles, then a seventh-grader, wore the shirt once a week for two months in early 2004 and refused to cover the images after a parent and student complained. He was suspended for one day that May, and the next day wore the shirt with duct tape covering the images.
Williamstown Middle School Principal Kathleen Morris-Kortz said the images violated the school dress code, which prohibits clothing that promotes the use of drugs or alcohol.
But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said in a 3-0 ruling that the school had no right to censor any part of the shirt.
"The pictures are an important part of the political message Guiles wished to convey, accentuating the anti-drug (and anti-Bush) message," the appeals court wrote. "By covering them defendants diluted Guiles's message, blunting its force and impact."
After Guiles sued school officials in U.S. District Court in Vermont, a judge found that his First Amendment rights were violated but that the school could censor some images on the shirt.
Guiles, now 15, said he was pleased. "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," he said.
The appeals court ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings.
School attorney Tony Lamb and the school principal did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The White House had no comment on the ruling or the depiction on Guiles' shirt.
Days before the 2000 presidential election, Bush was caught withholding information about a drunken-driving arrest in Maine in 1976. He said he had not been specific about the incident because he wanted to keep the information from his twin daughters.
Bush gave up alcohol about 20 years ago and once referred to his youthful drinking as a "young and irresponsible" stage of his life. Rumors have circulated that Bush used drugs, and he is often satirized as a beer-swilling frat boy.