LANCASTER, Pa. — A federal judge has sided with a south-central Pennsylvania school district in a dispute over whether a high school student should have been barred from wearing a T-shirt with images of guns on it.
"Students have no constitutional right to promote violence in our public schools," U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner in Allentown wrote in the Sept. 30 opinion Miller v. Penn Manor School District.
Donald Miller III, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, was given detention in December after he defied an assistant principal's order to turn the shirt inside-out. Images of two guns were printed on the shirt, along with phrases including, "United States Terrorist Hunting Permit ... No Bag Limit."
Miller's parents sued the school district earlier this year, arguing that his freedom of speech was violated. The shirt, a gift from an uncle who is stationed in Iraq, was intended to be a patriotic show of support for the troops, they argued.
Gardner disagreed and noted that schools have been forced to become increasingly vigilant about potential warning signs of violence following massacres at such places as Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech, and an Amish school in Nickel Mines.
"There is no constitutionally protected political message contained in Donald's shirt but there is a message of use of force, violence and violation of law in the form of illegal vigilante behavior," Gardner wrote in the 60-page opinion.
A lawyer for Miller's parents, Leonard G. Brown III, said on Oct. 3 that he was reviewing the decision and had not decided whether to appeal.
"Most Americans would agree that wearing the T-shirt was a political statement," Brown said. "His teacher said he wasn't the kind of student they ever thought would do something violent."