Oregon student sues school district after being removed for Trump-quoting T-shirt

An attorney for Addison Barnes, 18, a senior at Liberty High School, says he wore a T-shirt reading, "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Company ... The wall just got 10 feet taller," to school in January. (Courtesy Ben Becker)

HILLSBORO, Ore. (KATU) - A high school student in Hillsboro, Oregon, is suing his principal and school district after he says administrators required him to remove a T-shirt quoting President Donald Trump or leave campus.

Ben Becker, an attorney for Liberty High School senior Addison Barnes, also suggested there was a double standard at play.

He told KATU one of Barnes' teachers had hung a poster at the front of her classroom reading, "Sanctuary City, Welcome Home."

But when his client wore a T-shirt with a pro-Trump message, he got in trouble.

The shirt Barnes wore to class in January bears a graphic design reading, "Donald J. Trump Border Wall Construction Company," according to Becker.

It also quotes the president saying, "The wall just got 10 feet taller."

"His political viewpoint is represented by the T-shirt," Becker explained.

He said during Barnes' first-period "people and politics" class, an assistant principal pulled him out, told him the shirt offended some students and teachers, and asked him to cover it up.

Becker said at first Barnes followed directions but after returning to class, he had a change of heart.

"He uncovered the T-shirt and after uncovering the T-shirt, an assistant principal came down to his first-period class, observed him with the T-shirt uncovered, and then directed a security guard to remove him from class," Becker told a KATU reporter.

After that, Becker said administrators told Barnes he had to cover up the shirt or leave school, and Barnes chose to go home for the day.

"And the following school day, which was a Monday, Addison learned that his absence from school was being treated as a suspension from school," Becker explained.

He said administrators later rescinded the suspension, but told Barnes he still couldn't wear the shirt to school.

Now, he's suing to exercise his First Amendment rights.

"Under the First Amendment, a school district's policy can only censor speech when there is a specific and significant fear of disruption, not just some remote apprehension of disturbance," Becker said.

Beth Graser, a spokeswoman for the Hillsboro School District, said via email, "We are still reviewing the lawsuit and respectfully decline the opportunity to comment at this time."

Regarding the case, Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, issued the following statement:

"The school clearly crossed the line when it required a student to remove a T-shirt that voiced support for Donald Trump's border wall or face a suspension. This shirt is mean-spirited, but it isn't a 'disturbance' under First Amendment case law.
"It is disappointing that Liberty High School decided to censor the student instead of inviting the student body to discuss immigration, the freedom of speech, and the impacts of xenophobic rhetoric. Schools have a responsibility to teach our youth how to engage in thoughtful conversations about difficult and potentially offensive subject matters. Censorship doesn't work and often just elevates the subject the government is trying to silence."
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