News & Politics

Wisconsin Teen Sues Principal for Banning T-Shirts Featuring Guns

Protesters demonstrate against gun violence as thousands take part in a nationwide day of action in Portland, Ore., on March 24, 2018. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Matthew Schoenecker wore a T-shirt featuring guns. It wasn’t threatening in any way. It just had guns on it. Schoenecker’s school didn’t have any regulations on the books saying he can’t wear such a shirt, so he did.

Principal John Koopman decided the teen’s shirt was “inappropriate.” Now, Schoenecker is filing a lawsuit against the principal for violating his First Amendment rights.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: “The suit, filed Monday in Milwaukee, names principal John Koopman as the sole defendant. It claims Koopman violated Schoenecker’s freedom of expression by restricting him from wearing shirts that depict guns and other weapons in ‘a non-violent, non-threatening manner.'”

“The suit also contends that Koopman’s personal, case-by-case determination of which shirts are ‘inappropriate’ violates Schoenecker’s rights to due process.”

This could have some important ramifications for students, and not just those in Wisconsin. Many students have been penalized for images of guns on shirts. They’ve been hammered for wearing shirts that are about supporting our troops simply because there was a gun on the shirt, for crying out loud.

A lawsuit like this could, theoretically, press schools to change the policies that allow this kind of thing. Many school systems have rules in place that arbitrarily decide an image is inappropriate based on its political stance. Those rules inhibit a student’s right to free expression, especially since such shirts don’t create any kind of distraction in the educational environment.

If students are going to be supported for walking out of school to protest our Second Amendment rights, then it seems they should also have the right to wear a shirt that signals their support for those very same rights.