Liberty HS student files free-speech suit over Trump shirt

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HILLSBORO, Ore. (KOIN) — An Oregon high school student says his First Amendment rights were violated when he was told to cover up a t-shirt expressing support for President Donald Trump’s border-wall policy. 

A generic image of the t-shirt Liberty HS student Addison Barnes was asked to cover up during a class. He filed a federal lawsuit saying the school violated his First Amendment rights. (Courtesy: Court documents)

Attorneys for Liberty High School senior Addison Barnes filed suit in Oregon’s Federal District Court, claiming that the school, located in the Hillsboro School District, suppressed Barnes’ right to political speech when administrators removed Barnes from class and told him he couldn’t wear a t-shirt because students found it offensive. The t-shirt, according to evidence submitted to the court, was printed with the words “Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Co.,” and included the phrase “The Wall Just Got 10 Feet Taller” in quotes. 

KOIN 6 News has reached out to Liberty High School for comment but they respectfully declined, saying they’re still reviewing the lawsuit.

Barnes wore the t-shirt to his “People and Politics” class earlier this semester, when the class was scheduled to discuss immigration. The lawsuit says Liberty High School assistant principal Amanda Ryan-Fear took Barnes out of class and told him to cover up the shirt because it was offensive to a teacher and at least one other student.  

Barnes initially covered up the shirt and returned to class, the suit says, but then decided that he was protected under the First Amendment and uncovered the t-shirt. Ryan-Fear sent a security guard to the classroom to remove Barnes and take him to her office, where she threatened him with a suspension for “defiance.” Barnes was given two options – cover up or go home – and he chose to leave the school, which was treated as a suspension. 

“If people are offended by his shirt – that’s their right to be offended,” Barnes’ attorney Mike McLane said. “But it’s also his right to have his opinion, as well. The constitutional line isn’t who’s offended. The constitutional line is there a specific and clear disturbance being created by the expression of the student’s political speech.” 

McLane said no disturbance – other than Barnes’ removal from the classroom – was created because his client wore the t-shirt in question.  

The attorney said opposing perspectives were welcomed, and even endorsed by the school. McLane said another teacher in the school hung a sign that said, “Sanctuary City, Welcome Home,” without incident. 

Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore. (KOIN)

“He has a right to free speech, just like liberals have the right to free speech,” McLane said.  

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