The young man at the center of a dispute with a teacher over the NRA t-shirt he wore to school now faces a $500 fine and up to one year in jail. West Virginia high school eight-grader, Jared Marcum, refuted a demand from a teacher in his school’s cafeteria to change or turn inside-out the shirt he was wearing bearing the NRA logo and a picture of a hunting rifle. The teacher charged the t-shirt disrupted the education process (what exactly does one learn in a cafeteria?). Marcum was then remanded to the principal’s office where he continued to rebuff the order. Police were called and, according to the responding officer, Marcum “[obstructed] an officer” and was then arrested and taken to jail. But Marcum asserts, “When the police came, I was still talking and telling them that this was wrong, that they cannot do this, it’s not against any school policy. The officer, he told me to sit down and be quiet. I said, `No, I’m exercising my right to free speech.’ I said it calmly.” Marcum eventually returned to school after a short suspension, welcomed by many of his fellow students sporting similar t-shirts in solidarity. But the story does not end there.
“Arresting officer James Adkins claimed that Marcum’s refusal to talk obstructed his ability to do his job.” So on Monday, fourteen-year-old Marcum appeared before a judge, who slapped him with formal charges that carry a maximum $500 fine and up to one year in jail. If his attorney cannot get the charges dropped, Marcum will be required to return to court on July 11th. Apparently refusing to communicate with a police officer (since when is that a crime?) is without a doubt the most pressing issue facing the legal system in Logan, West Virginia, along with jailing and prosecuting an outspoken fourteen-year-old who refuses to tow the PC line. Meanwhile, other students around the country are verbally and physically attacking their teachers and getting away with it with slaps on the wrist.
But what about Marcum’s right to free speech? Was it not violated? According to the Center for Public Education, our right to free speech does not cease at the entrance doors to a public school:
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is the single most influential U.S. Supreme Court case on school free speech. The memorable line emanating from the case: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The 1969 case involved Iowa students and their right to wear a black armband in school to symbolically protest against the Vietnam War.
The principle outlined in the case that still endures: To prevail, school officials must demonstrate that the speech would provoke “substantial disruption” of school activities or invade the rights of others.
“OK: Allowing a student to wear a T-shirt that says “I oppose the war on terrorism.” Political statements are permitted in a school environment.
WRONG: Making the student change or cover the shirt because it contains a political message, or because school officials, a majority of students, or the community agree with deployment of troops. The First Amendment is not subject to a popularity contest, and in fact is meant to protect less popular views.”
Further, the school’s dress code does not indicate any violation:
“Logan County Schools’ dress code, which is posted on the school system’s website, prohibits clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexually suggestive phrases. Clothing displaying advertisements for any alcohol, tobacco, or drug product also is prohibited.”
So what exactly, if anything, was Marcum “disrupting” by wearing an NRA t-shirt, in gun-friendly West Virginia no less? Was he disruptive? Or was the disruption only to the anti-gun ideology of the teacher demanding he remove it? It would be more than interesting to know whether or not a student wearing a “Ban Firearms” t-shirt would have received the same command. If not, then the dictate truly was personal bias, and thus the real “obstructionist to the education process” was most certainly not Marcum, but rather the teacher for causing the ruckus in the first place, who should now show leadership and own up to it.
Public school employees do not hold the privilege of deciding what is and is not acceptable speech, though many stories have emerged in recent weeks reporting that they’ve done, and continue to do, just that, violating the natural right to free speech of their students. I applaud Marcum for standing his ground, and I encourage him to pursue a civil suit against all involved parties for violating his Constitutionally-protected right. Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” This young man clearly understands that.