Published June 23, 2010
Three California high school students are fighting for their right to show their American patriotism -- even on a Mexican holiday -- after they were forced to remove their American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo.
The three were among a group of teenage boys who were told by a school administrator that they had to remove their patriotic clothing or leave the school because other students were celebrating the May 5 Mexican holiday, raising fears of fighting.
The school district later reversed the administrator's decision, but on Wednesday, the three students and their parents filed a lawsuit against the Morgan Hill Unified School District and the principal and assistant principal.
The students’ attorney, William J. Becker Jr., said state law explicitly grants students the right to exercise freedom of speech by wearing “buttons, badges, and other insignia” and prohibits public schools from interfering with their speech rights unless a “clear and present danger” exists, such as the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of school rules or substantial disruption of the school’s orderly operation.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has held for decades that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates,” said Becker. "Students who wish to show their pride for another nation’s heritage should not have their speech protected more than those who celebrate America’s."
Superintendent Wesley Smith would not comment on the lawsuit, saying the district has not received official notification.
In May, Smith called the incident "extremely unfortunate" and said the school administrator had apologized.
"The Morgan Hill Unified School District does not prohibit nor do we discourage wearing patriotic clothing," Smith said in a statement issued in response to the uproar and national media attention that followed. "While campus safety is our primary concern and administrators made decisions yesterday in an attempt to ensure campus safety, students should not, and will not, be disciplined for wearing patriotic clothing."
The teens were sitting at a table outside Live Oak High School when the assistant principal asked two of them to remove their American flag bandannas. The boys complied, but then were escorted the principal's office, where they were told they must turn their T-shirts inside-out or be sent home. The assistant principal told the students he did not want any fights to break out between Mexican-American students celebrating their heritage and those wearing American flags.