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Palmers Fight the Power in Waxahachie, Texas

"The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions, yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.... If there is no struggle, there is not progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them...." -- Frederick Douglas

I'm not trying to make a direct comparison between the family in the case below and one of this country's great freedom fighters, but can't we still give some props to the Palmer family of Waxahachie, Texas? On Sept. 21, 2007, Paul Palmer, a sophomore at Waxahachie High School, went to school wearing a T-shirt with “San Diego” written on it. The school's assistant principal told Palmer his shirt violated the school district’s dress code, which did not allow T-shirts with printed messages.

Freespeech Palmer called his parents, who for unknown reasons (but perhaps related to the struggle for the progress of human liberty?) brought him a “John Edwards for President ‘08” T-shirt to wear instead. Not surprisingly, the John Edwards shirt did not go over well with the assistant principal, either. The T-shirt battle then touched off a federal lawsuit when Palmer sued the school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the dress code violated his freedom of speech under the First Amendment and seeking a temporary injunction against the school district.

The district court denied Palmer's motion for an injunction. The PrawfsBlog reported in a post this weekend that Palmer then appealed the lower court's ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In August 2009, however, the 5th Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling, concluding that Palmer had not shown a likelihood of success. Both the PrawfsBlog and the The First Amendment Center have detailed analyses of the freedom of speech issues raised in the case.

So students in the Waxahachie Independent School District still may not wear T-shirts with even the most innocuous "printed messages" on them, but not for lack of trying by the Palmers.

Posted by Bruce Carton on December 1, 2009 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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