Michigan School Reverses Student's Suspension For Wearing "Anarchy" T-Shirt

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
May 10, 2004 12:00 am

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After ACLU Intervention, Political Symbols and Messages Now Permitted on Clothing


DETROIT – Officials with Bay City Schools have changed their minds 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, the ACLU announced today.

“”Public schools should create an environment where the 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 his political views simply because they disagree with those views.””

Gies anarchy shirt

Timothy Gies wearing the t-shirt for which he was suspended.

Timothy Gies, a senior at Bay City Central High School, was suspended on April 7 for five days for wearing a t-shirt with the anarchy symbol. 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 by suspending him or by insisting that he take off the t-shirt or sweatshirt he was wearing. Bay City is a community of approximately 37,000 located in the northeastern part of the state.

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. He did exactly that.

The ACLU represented 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,” Gies said. “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.”

The ACLU of Michigan recently won a case on behalf of 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.

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

Click here to read the letter sent to the school district. View photos of Timothy Gies and some of the banned clothing: http://www.aclumich.org/images/issues/photos/timeinstein.jpg

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