Tri County Area Schools does not like when students exercise their First Amendment rights. In 2022, two students at Tri County Middle School wore sweatshirts to school with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” a well-known, non-profane, anti-President Biden political slogan. But school officials ordered the students to remove their political attire while allowing other students to wear apparel with different political messages, including gay-pride-themed hoodies.
The U.S. Supreme Court made clear a half-century ago that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Criticizing elected officials, which is core political speech, is at the zenith of First Amendment protection. Schools should encourage students to express themselves politically because it trains the next generation of leaders to live in a pluralistic country where their neighbors and coworkers might not think, pray, or vote the same way they do.
Tri County Area Schools’ actions are unconstitutional. Just as the First Amendment bars viewpoint discrimination in town halls and public squares, so too does it bar viewpoint discrimination against public school students. On April 25, 2023, FIRE filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the school’s viewpoint-discriminatory ban on “Let’s Go Brandon” apparel, as well as its dress code provision banning students from wearing clothing which “calls undue attention” to the student. Whether it’s a Pride Flag, Trump flag, or Let’s Go Brandon shirt, schools can’t pick and choose which political beliefs are worthy of expression.