Two teenagers in Michigan are suing their school system for not allowing them to wear sweatshirts with the political slogan “Let’s Go Brandon” – a famous euphemism for a harsh slur directed at President Joe Biden.
The students say that they have the right to protest the president of the United States. The school district claims the sweatshirts are vulgar and that it has the authority to prohibit such clothing.
Sounds like BS, say the students, their mother, and their lawyers.
“Criticism of the president is core political speech protected by the First Amendment,” said attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “Whether it’s a Biden sticker, a ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ sweatshirt or a gay pride T-shirt, schools can’t pick and choose which political beliefs students can express.”
Fitzpatrick, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, filed a lawsuit against the Tri-County Area Schools on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on behalf of two brothers and their mother, who claim their constitutional rights have been violated. The district is located in western Michigan, approximately 30 miles north of Grand Rapids.
In particular, the lawsuit asserts that two brothers attended Tri County Middle School in Howard City last year wearing “Let’s Go Brandon” sweaters, but an assistant principal and a teacher told the students to take them off. The lawsuit claims that one of the students was told by the assistant principal that “his sweatshirt was equivalent to the F-word.”
The phrase ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ originated at a NASCAR race
The lawsuit states that a Talladega, Alabama NASCAR race in October 2021 is where the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” first appeared. When driver Brandon Brown was being interviewed live after winning the race, the audience began yelling “(expletive) Joe Biden.” The TV interviewer claimed that the supporters were yelling, “Let’s go, Brandon!” as she dealt with the unpleasant on-air situation.
The term went viral and has since become a popular form of political criticism, appearing on T-shirts and bumper stickers and being screamed at right-wing demonstrations, according to the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, members of Congress have used the phrase during remarks on the House floor, but no one has been banned or reprimanded.
“The slogan ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ conveys the same opposition to President Biden, sanitized to express the sentiment without using profanity or vulgarity,” according to the lawsuit, which also argues that the slogan is not “lewd, profane, indecent, vulgar, or obscene.”
The school district is not convinced.
The school district supports the slogan prohibition, claiming that it is intended to ‘ridicule the president’
Following the sweatshirt occurrences in late May 2022, lawyers issued the school district a letter threatening litigation if the ban was not lifted.
The district maintained its prohibition.
An attorney for Tri County Area Schools stated why “Let’s Go Brandon” sweaters aren’t permitted in a letter dated June 9, 2022, stating that the district “prohibits clothing or styles of expression that are vulgar or profane.”
“The commonly understood meaning of the slogan ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ is to profanely mock the president.” “At least one of the students… has admitted knowing what this slogan means, and a simple Google search confirms the slogan means “(Expletive) Joe Biden,” Clark Hill attorney Kara T. Rozin wrote in the letter, adding that the slogan “even comes with its own Wikipedia page which unequivocally confirms the slogan’s vulgar meaning.”
Rozin went on to say that the district “does not forbid students from expressing their political views or from wearing clothing with political slogans.”
“However,” the lawyer continued, “student codes of conduct and attire ban “words or apparel containing derogatory, vulgar, or obscene language.”
“‘Let’s Go Brandon’ is a transparent code for using profanity against the president,” the letter claimed. “The district would similarly prohibit other clothing that has the intent to use profane language against another individual as this would be contrary to the district’s educational mission,” Rozin wrote in the letter, which she concluded with, “Be advised that the district is prepared to vigorously defend against any such threatened litigation and will diligently pursue with equal vigor all legal recourses against frivolous litigation.”
A lawsuit was filed ten months later.
‘Take off that sweatshirt’
The complaint concerns two brothers, D.A., who is in seventh grade, and X.A., who is currently a student in high school. Here is what prompted them to sue, according to their lawsuit:
D.A. donned his “Let’s Go Brandon” sweatshirt to Tri County Middle School in February 2022, and the assistant principal stopped him in a hallway and told him to remove the clothing because it was “equivalent to the F-word.”
D.A. wore the sweatshirt to school again a few weeks later, but a teacher stopped him in the hallway and told him to take it off, allegedly threatening him with punishment if he didn’t.
“Take that sweatshirt off,” allegedly said the teacher. “I’ve told you before, and I won’t tell you again.”
D.A. inquired as to why.
The sweatshirt, according to the teacher, was “not permitted.” Fearing repercussions, he erased it.
Sports on Big Brother ‘Brandon’s stuff is ready to go
Three months after D.A. hit a home run wearing his hoodie, his older brother X.A. wore his “Let’s Go Brandon” sweatshirt to school. It also did not go well.
On May 26, 2022, the assistant principal brought X.A. to his office, where he allegedly told him that “the school does not allow students to wear clothing with political speech.”
X.A. agreed, but the brothers’ lawyers are now claiming that the school system is allowing political speech by allowing children to wear homosexual pride and LGBTQ T-shirts to school.
“X.A.’s ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ sweatshirt did not disrupt class, cause a disturbance among students, or invade the rights of others,” the lawsuit claims.
The boys’ mother, whose identity has been withheld by the lawyers, voiced her displeasure with the school district in a statement supplied to the Free Press.
“School officials punished my sons instead of allowing them to express their beliefs to their classmates.” Instead of seeing political sweatshirts as a potential conversation starter among students, officials saw them as an opportunity to discriminate against opposing viewpoints,” the mother explained, adding:
“I am proud of my sons for standing up for their First Amendment rights, as well as the rights of students everywhere.”
What will the United States Supreme Court say?
Lawyers for the brothers believe that the children are protected by the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Schools, in which the high court supported public students’ First Amendment right to protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school. In that decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that student disagreements are not only “an inevitable part of the process of attending school; they are also an important part of the educational process.”
“It is difficult to argue that either students or teachers give up their constitutional rights to free speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” the court famously stated.
Although the school district’s lawyer acknowledges that the Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue, he claims that there is a “longstanding history” — post-Tinker — of courts allowing districts to prohibit vulgar and/or profane language at school “even absent a showing of a substantial disruption to the educational environment.”
The school lawyer referenced a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which the high court found that a school district could prohibit, among other things, vulgarity or profanity, without violating a student’s First Amendment rights. She also referenced several judicial decisions in which judges affirmed a school district’s decision to prohibit specific apparel, such as:
In 1997, a high school student in Ohio was barred from wearing Marilyn Manson T-shirts to school because the band promotes “destructive conduct and demoralizing values that are contrary to the educational mission of the school.” In 2001, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school’s decision.
In Virginia, a middle school student was penalized for one day for wearing a “Drugssuck!” shirt. The kid filed a lawsuit, but the suspension was upheld by a district court in 1992.
In 1994, teenagers in Massachusetts challenged a school district’s ban on two T-shirts: one that said “See Dick Drink. See also Dick Drive. See also Dick Die. Don’t be a Dick,” and the other: “CoedNaked Band: Do It To the Rhythm.” A federal court ruled that school officials might limit student expression.
Lawyers in the Western Michigan case contend that the case smacks of “political favoritism” on the part of the school system and that students’ First Amendment rights are being violated as a result.
“A public school district cannot censor speech simply because it may cause someone to think of a swear word,” Fitzpatrick contends.
The complaint, filed on behalf of Tri-County School District K-12 pupils, seeks a court order halting the school district’s ban on “Let’s Go Brandon” attire as well as a clause of its dress code prohibiting students from wearing clothes that “calls undue attention” to the kid.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, formerly known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, was established in 1999 to promote free speech on college campuses, a mission that has subsequently expanded. While conservatives have claimed in recent years that their voices are being silenced in academic settings, the organization considers itself nonpartisan, and its legislative director recently opposed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to restrict curricula.
“These students should not only be allowed to express their political beliefs but should be encouraged to do so,” said Harrison Rosenthal, another attorney involved in the case. “America’s students must be free to exercise their constitutional rights, not just learn about them.”