Two civil rights groups back new First Amendment lawsuit challenging Washoe County School District’s ‘no weapons’ dress code as unconstitutional and overbroad, claims 8th grade student was discriminated against based on his pro-Second Amendment viewpoint and tee shirt.
RENO, NV (April 24, 2018) — Less than one week after constitutional rights advocacy organizations Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF) and Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) published a new guide to help protect pro-gun rights students and their First Amendment free speech rights, the groups today announced a new federal civil rights lawsuit against a Reno, Nevada public school district and principal over what they believe are serious violations of an 8th grade student’s First Amendment right to peacefully and non-disruptively wear pro-Second Amendment political messages at his middle school. The complaint, which includes an image of the banned tee shirt, can be downloaded at www.firearmspolicy.org/guardanapo.
The lawsuit, filed this morning in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada in Reno, claims that boy was disciplined for engaging “in a respectful, silent, and peaceful expression of his political views” by wearing a Firearms Policy Coalition t-shirt to school. The shirt invokes the constitution and themes dating back to the American Revolution, with the words “Don’t Tread On Me” and a coiled rattlesnake (familiar elements of the Gadsden flag) flanked by references to the United States of America (“USA”) and the Second Amendment (“2A”). While it also includes the words “Firearms Policy Coalition,” there are no depictions of firearms or weapons of any kind on the shirt.
According to the plaintiffs, the student’s teacher, Brooke May, last month directed him to remove the FPC shirt, claiming that it violated the school’s dress code. She also said that he would be subject to further discipline, including a trip to the principal’s office, if he wore it again. In response, the 8th grader at Kendyl Depoali Middle School told her that it was his “right to express [himself] through how [he] dressed,” to which the teacher responded that he could have his “Second Amendment rights when he turns eighteen”—ignoring, and violating, his First Amendment rights in the process.
Mere days after the plaintiff was disciplined for wearing FPC’s pro-gun rights shirt, students at the school participated in the National School Walkout, a formal, organized protest calling for expansive new gun control measures.
“Public schools may not violate the civil rights of pro-gun rights students because they don’t like the Second Amendment or people who support the fundamental, individual human right to armed self-defense,” said FPF Chairman and FPC President Brandon Combs. “It is beyond outrageous that a friendly, peaceful young man was targeted and punished by the same school district that days later went out of its way to support gun control. This case will put the Washoe County School District and public schools across the country on notice that students’ peaceful, pro-Second Amendment speech is protected by the same constitution that protects their right to keep and bear arms.”
“The Supreme Court has affirmed since the era of Vietnam War protests that public school students have the right to express themselves so long as they don’t disrupt the educational process,” explained Bradley Benbrook, counsel for the plaintiff. “And the First Amendment violation is all the more apparent where, as alleged here, school administrators suppress unpopular speech while allowing more politically-correct speech.”
The student is represented through his parents Audrey Guardanapo, a local police dispatcher, and Shaun Guardanapo, veteran of the United States Marine Corps and former law enforcement officer, by Reno litigation attorney David O’Mara of the O’Mara Law Firm, Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay of Sacramento-based Benbrook Law Group, PC, and Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who has written and taught extensively about the First and Second Amendments. Before joining the UCLA faculty 20 years ago, Volokh clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also operates the popular legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy,” now hosted at Reason.
If a student or parent believes they were discriminated against, threatened or disciplined for peacefully expressing their views, punished for refusing to participate in a gun control walkout or demonstration, or threatened with law enforcement action for their pro-gun speech, they can submit a report to the FPF/FPC Legal Action Hotline at www.firearmspolicy.org/hotline or by calling (855) 252-4510.
The FPF and FPC guide to pro-gun student speech, “K-12 Schools, Free Speech, and the Fundamental, Individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms: A Guide to How Students Can Use Their First Amendment Rights to Defend and Promote Second Amendment Rights,” is available for free at www.k12speech.com. In addition to providing information and tools that parents and students can use to make sure they are not forced into participating in speech or demonstrations they disagree with, the guide contains materials that may help them plan counter-speech to gun control advocacy events or organize pro-gun rights demonstrations or expressive conduct. It also includes sample letters that parents could edit and use to notify schools of a student’s disagreement with a gun control event’s viewpoint, request information and policies, and help ensure that school officials respect the rights of all students.
Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a 501(c)3 grassroots, non-profit public policy organization. FPF’s mission is to defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms. FPF conducts charitable programs including research, education, and legal action to protect and advance individual liberty.
Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots, non-profit public policy organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. FPC protects and promotes individual liberty through programs including legal action, direct and grassroots advocacy, legislation, government oversight, research, education, and outreach.