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An Ohio high school student did not have a First Amendment right to wear a sweatshirt with a picture of a rifle on it, a federal district court has ruled.
Carlos Gomez wore a sweatshirt in May 2021, with a picture of an AR-15 and the word “ESSENTIAL” on it. He contended that he had a First Amendment right to support the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” under the Second Amendment. However, a school official confiscated the sweatshirt, claiming that it violated the school’s dress code.
Gomez sued, alleging a violation of his First Amendment expressive rights. He also sued because in January 2021, his former AP government teacher made disparaging remarks about people who supported then-President Donald Trump. Gomez argued that his First Amendment rights were violated because of viewpoint suppression in the classroom.
However, United States District Judge Michael R. Barrett granted summary judgment to the school district and school officials in his July 26, 2023, opinion in C.G. v. Oak Hills Local School District.
With regard to the sweatshirt, the court determined that it was reasonable for school officials to forecast that wearing a garment with a picture of an AK-15 on it had the potential to cause a substantial disruption of school activities. The judge noted that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s substantial-disruption standard from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969), school officials do not have to wait for an actual riot or disruption.
Barrett did not go into detail or describe why wearing the sweatshirt likely would cause a substantial disruption. If the case is appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that question will bear close examination.
Regarding Gomez’s claim of viewpoint suppression, the district court also summarily rejected the claim.
“There is a complete dearth of evidence that Gomez was prevented from presenting his point of view or impermissibly punished for doing so,” Barrett wrote.
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David L. Hudson Jr. teaches First Amendment law and constitutional law classes at Belmont University College of Law. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of more than 50 books, including The Constitution Explained: A Guide for Every American (Visible Ink Press, 2022) and The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012).