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California high school that banned ‘violent’ NRA t-shirt backs down after legal challenge

November 1, 2013

On September 19, school officials at Canyon High School in Orange California  forced 16 year old student Haley Bullwinkle to remove her NRA t-shirt because  school officials found her shirt promoted gun violence and violated the school’s  dress code. The shirt depicted a deer, an American Flag, and a hunter holding a  hunting rifle, with text stating “National Rifle Association of America,  Defending America’s Traditions Since 1871”.  Haley was forced to remove her  NRA shirt and wear a school shirt instead, or face suspension.

Haley changed her shirt, but came home at the end of the school day upset and  afraid she would be suspended.  Haley’s parents were also upset. “She’s  never been in trouble before. She gets good grades,” said Jed Bullwinkle,  Haley’s father.  “She is not a threat to school safety in any way, no  matter what shirt she’s wearing.  I don’t understand how this t-shirt could  be made into a safety issue,” Mr. Bullwinkle said.

Mr. Bullwinkle asked the school principal to look into the matter.  In  an email, the principal said “The shirt had a gun on it which is not allowed by  school police. . . . It is standard protocol to have students change when they  are in violation of dress code.”

The family contacted a local NRA instructor, and the case made it’s way to  the NRA’s California lawyers at Michel & Associates in Long Beach.  The firm has worked with the NRA in the past in successfully assisting several  students facing similar school actions. Those cases including getting a case  involving a Sacramento student wearing a sporting clays t-shirt dismissed (Steven Huish), getting an expulsion  overturned against an early morning duck hunting student who left his unloaded  shotgun in his locked off campus pick up truck (Gary Tudesko), and forcing an apology from  administrators at Cornerstone Elementary the school after  they forced 5th graders to cut the little plastic rifles off the little  green army men they had glued to their graduation caps to show support for the  armed forces.

Recognizing the need to bring Canyon High School’s  censorship to the  attention of the public, the law firm contacted several local media outlets and  began preparing a pre-litigation demand letter to send to the school. The story  was picked up nationally and went viral, and the school was inundated with media  requests for comment.  Among other things, these stories noted that the  school mascot carries spears and arrows, the school football team logo has a  spear on it, and the drill team twirls imitation rifles. The apparent double  standard did not go unnoticed.

In the face of public ridicule and legal action the school district came to  its senses and issued an apology. In a statement published by Michael L.  Christensen, Superintendent of Schools, Orange Unified School District, the  school district said the shirt was okay to wear to school, and promised to  provide training to staff aimed at preventing future incidents. The matter now  seems to be resolved, and the NRA has given Haley a carton of the banned  t-shirts to give to her friends, to wear to school if they want to.

“This whole thing smelled of political censorship,” said civil rights lawyer  Chuck Michel, attorney for the Bullwinkles.  “It was a school administrator  applying a personal perspective without even taking the time to look closely at  the message the shirt conveyed.”  Michel noted that this kind of incident  goes unreported more often than not; students’ free speech issues like this one  seem to appear in the national news on a regular basis, and for some reason  schools are not fixing the problem.

He’s right. Sadly, these types of incidents are not rare. In Virginia a  student faced possible jail time for refusing to remove an NRA t-shirt. Under  ill-conceived “zero-tolerance” policies, political correctness is trumping  common sense, with students facing suspension of worse for drawing a  gun, chewing a pop-tart into the shape of a gun, or just making  the shape of a gun with their hand.


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