ACLU Supports MI High School Student Sent Home for Wearing Anti-War T-Shirt

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
February 25, 2003 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it is looking into possible litigation on behalf of Bretton Barber, a junior at Dearborn High School who was told to go home if he did not remove a t-shirt with a picture of President Bush between the words “international terrorist.”

“It’s a gutsy thing for a high school student to take on a school administration in this way,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “It’s obvious that Bretton feels very strongly about this issue and we want to make sure that his ability to express his political opinion isn’t hindered in any way.”

“I’m hoping that we can resolve this issue without going to court,” Moss added. “However, if the school is unwilling to allow students the right to political expression, we’ll have no choice.”

The incident arose on February 17, when Barber wore the t-shirt to school to express his concern about the President’s policies on the potential war in Iraq. After wearing the shirt in school for three hours without incident, school administrators asked him to remove the t-shirt, turn it inside out, or go home, saying that the shirt might cause a “disruption.”

To justify their actions, a school administrator cited a famous 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision about student free expression rights. But Barber, who was familiar with the decision as well, pointed out that the official was citing from the dissenting opinion, not the often-quoted majority decision that a student’s rights to free speech don’t end “at the schoolhouse gate.” That decision actually supports his position, Barber told the official. Nonetheless, he was told to remove the shirt.

Barber, who has nearly a 4.0 average and was second in his class last semester, said that he is hoping to go to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to pursue a career in constitutional law. He has been a “card-carrying member” of the ACLU since the 10th grade and has contributed whatever he could afford to the organization since middle school.

“The shirt was meant to emphasize the message ‘no war,’ and I feel that I’ve been successful in getting that message out,” said Barber. Although he has given up wearing his shirt until the issue with the school can be resolved, he said that he hopes to organize a group of students to protest the banning of the t-shirt.

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