Political Symbols or Messages Now Permitted on Clothing

DETROIT The Bay City Schools has changed its mind about suspending a high school student for wearing a t-shirt with an anarchy symbol after the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan appealed the suspension.

Timothy Gies, a senior at Bay City Central High School, was suspended on April 7 for five days. School administrators had previously prohibited him from wearing peace signs, upside-down American flags and a sweatshirt with an anti-war quote from Albert Einstein either with suspensions or by insisting that he take off the t-shirt or sweatshirt he was wearing.  

“Public schools should create an environment where free exchange of ideas is fostered not silenced,” said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.  “It is unconstitutional for school officials to censor a student’s expression of their political views simply because they disagree with those views.”

The ACLU represented Mr. Gies in an appeal to the district’s director of student services, Marty Gottesman, arguing that the suspension violated the student’s free speech rights.  Late last week, Timothy received a letter stating that because the shirt was neither threatening nor disruptive, the discipline would be set aside. In addition to reversing Gies’ suspension, the administration has agreed to allow students to wear other political symbols on their clothing. 

"I believe that in order to adequately prepare students for the future, they must be exposed to a diverse, cross-section of people and ideas," said Timothy Gies.  "The fight for our right to free expression was a hard one and even though I'm graduating in June, I'll rest easy knowing that next year's class will be able to share ideas without being punished."

When Gies contended that he had a First Amendment right to express himself, one administrator informed him that the Constitution does not apply to Bay City students.  Another mockingly told him to report the incident to the ACLU.

“We are disturbed by the trend among public schools to crack down on students’ rights to free expression,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.  “Unless the speech causes a major disruption of the school, schools cannot ban it.  The solution to bad speech is more speech, not censorship.”

The ACLU recently won a case for a Dearborn High School student who was prohibited from wearing a t-shirt calling President Bush an “international terrorist.”  The ACLU is also suing the Utica Schools for censoring a student’s article in the school newspaper about a lawsuit against the school district.

Click here to read the letter sent to the District.