Federal court: School may have violated student's speech rights

By The Associated Press
09.19.03

DETROIT — The Dearborn School District probably acted in good faith when it sent a student home for wearing an anti-President Bush T-shirt, but the action still may have violated the high schooler’s First Amendment rights, a federal judge said.

At a hearing Sept. 17, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Duggan said he plans to issue a written decision later on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Bretton Barber. The suit seeks to force the district to let him wear his shirt.

Dearborn High School said it was worried about inflaming passions at the school, where a majority of students are Arab-American.

“It isn’t my belief (that school officials) acted in bad faith, the question is whether the very powerful First Amendment rights dominate,” Duggan said. “It may be that their well-intentioned actions violated (Barber’s) First Amendment rights.”

A decision is likely in the coming weeks, the ACLU said yesterday.

Barber was scheduled to present a “compare and contrast” essay in English class in February, and chose to compare President Bush to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Barber wore a T-shirt that featured a picture of Bush with the caption “International Terrorist.”

Attorneys for the district have declined to comment on the case.