By: Teresa Mull
A New Jersey student was allegedly punished for wearing a shirt depicting the United States made-up of guns.
The student, who attends the Gloucester County School of Technology in southern New Jersey, was wearing a t-shirt with the phrase to the effect of, “My Constitution, My Rights,” depicting a map of the United States fabricated from silhouettes of red, white, and blue firearms.
“Apparently, that was objectionable, and the student was approached and told, ‘You cannot wear that shirt in school. We’re going to discipline you if you do,’” the student’s attorney, Scott L. Bach, Esq, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (an NRA state affiliate) and a member of the NRA Board of Directors, told Gunpowder Magazine.
“The school gave him an absolutely filthy and disgusting shirt that they dug up from a locker room and said, ‘Here, wear this,’” Bach went on. “And the student tried to comply. He put the shirt on, and it was so revolting that he just couldn’t wear it. He said to the school, ‘Can I just turn my shirt inside-out?’ And they said, ‘No, you can still see the guns when you do that.’ At that point, the student refused to comply, and they disciplined him.”
Bach says his organization has sent a demand letter to the school, pointing out that their punishment of the student was unconstitutional, providing case law, and telling the school it needs to rescind the disciplinary action, apologize to the student and his family, and “assure us it isn’t going to happen again, or else we’re going to sue them.” The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC) has yet to hear back from the school.
First and Second Amendment Violations
This most recent incident follows on the footsteps of a similar case in which the Lacey Township School District (in New Jersey) suspended two students for visiting a shooting range outside of school hours. ANJRPC threatened a lawsuit if the school didn’t rescind its actions and policies.
“[Lacey Township School District] started out with an absolutely outrageous and unconstitutional policy that said if you’re reported to be in possession of firearms on or off school grounds, they could suspend you,” Bach said. “What happened was two students took pictures of themselves near firearms – they weren’t even touching them – at a range. Perfectly legal, constitutionally protected activity, and the school disciplined them for that when they posted pictures of themselves at a range.
“It’s both a First Amendment and a Second Amendment issue,” Bach said. “My group [ANJRPC] sent a demand letter … and [the school district] immediately rescinded and rewrote – quietly – their policy. They deleted that absolutely outrageous policy where they tried to control student behavior and influence their exercise of Second Amendment rights off school grounds. Currently, we’re in discussions with them to resolve the other pieces, which means rescinding the disciplinary action, apologizing to the students, and assuring us it will never happen again. We’re actually working productively with that particular school right now in Lacey Township. They are being very cooperative. I don’t think they knew they would receive as much attention as they did, and they desire to make things right. But not every school district in New Jersey is that way.”
‘It’s Definitely on the Increase’
Bach says his organization has seen a rise recently in instances of schools violating students’ constitutional rights.
“Since various tragedies have happened, it seems like there is zero-tolerance for somebody expressing their First Amendment right to support the Second Amendment inside schools,” Bach said. “It’s like they deny the Second Amendment is there, and they seem to regard any use – any involvement or interaction with firearms – as something threatening and criminal. And they are using their school bully platform to chill the exercise of Second Amendment rights and to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights in support of the Second Amendment. It’s definitely on the increase.
Bach says because his organization has seen an uptick in such instances, ANJRPC is calling on people to make their stories heard.
“The Constitution is not self-enforcing, and if somebody doesn’t enforce it, rights can be trampled,” Bach said. “Our organization has drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘No more.’ We’ve started this program we call the Student Liberty Strike Force, now that we’ve had a couple incidents [like this], and we’re encouraging people to tell us any situations they’ve had, and we’re going to address them school-by-school if necessary.
“We’re soliciting cases from New Jersey,” Bach said, “but if people around the country have other cases, we will make sure they get heard by the appropriate national association.”
People can contact the Student Liberty Strike Force by writing to: email@example.com.
Teresa Mull is editor of Gunpowder Magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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