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Student removes body-piercing jewelry after school threatens expulsion

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center research attorney
08.17.99

Meggan Haase, a 17-year-old high school senior at Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tenn., returned to school today without her body-piercing jewelry.

Yesterday, school officials told Haase not to return to school until she removed body-piercing rings from her eyebrows and lower lip.

During the summer, school officials adopted a new dress code that, among other things, prohibits students from wearing any body-piercing jewelry "except in the ears."

However, Haase says that school officials are trampling on her First Amendment free-speech rights. Yesterday, Haase told freedomforum.org: "I am not going to let them take away my First Amendment free-expression rights and my body piercings."

However, after talking it over with her mother, Haase decided to remove the jewelry and return to school today. Her mother, Candice Coleman, told freedomforum.org: "It is ridiculous to punish a student for this but she does need her education. I told her to go ahead and pursue this but meanwhile do what the school officials are requiring."

Hasse says she will likely contact the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee about challenging the dress code policy.

Haase cites Supreme Court case law supporting her rights to freedom of expression. "The U.S. Supreme Court said in the Tinker case that student expression is protected unless it creates a substantial disruption," she said. "My body piercings did not disrupt anything."

Haase refers to the high court's 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist. In Tinker, the high court ruled that school officials violated the First Amendment rights of several students when they suspended them for wearing black armbands to school to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

"The student handbook on one page says be an individual and think for yourself and then on the very next page they lay out a dress code," Haase said.

"I have worn these body piercings for three years, and it has never been a problem," she said. "Now all of a sudden with this new policy my piercings are a distraction. I have not engaged in any disruptive behavior."

"These school officials want us all to conform," Haase said. "It is like they are trying to create a nation of robots."

Coleman says that while she does not particularly like body piercings, she supports her daughter's rights. "I certainly stand behind her right to free expression," she said. "I don't see it as a disruption. I mean she is not hurting anyone else."

Bob Cagle, principal of Marshall County High School, confirmed that Haase had been asked to leave school yesterday for failing to conform to the dress code policy. "We are just enforcing school board policy," he told freedomforum.org "It was her choice. We asked her to conform to the dress code policy and she refused."


Related

Tongue-pierced teen seeks end to school's jewelry ban

U.S. Magistrate will decide if body piercing is considered free expression. 03.10.98

Parents, students decry high school's dress code
South Carolina principal says the rules help foster safe, effective learning environment. 08.20.98

11th Circuit backs Fla. school district's rules on body piercings
By David L. Hudson Jr. Student had challenged policy, which bars jewelry that pierces anything but ears, as violation of her right to self-expression. 09.01.08

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