A 14-year-old student in West Virginia was suspended, arrested for obstructing the education process, and jailed last week after he refused to remove a National Rifle Association T-shirt he wore to school. Although the school has a dress code policy that prohibits any display of violence, the wording of the policy itself is ambigous and is left open to interpretation.
Moreover, the school policy does not specifically bar students from wearing shirts displaying a gun, and, considering that the shirt did not carry any phrases that incited violence, the student may have been well within his right to wear it.
The student, Jared Marcum, who has specifically asked the Associated Press to keep his name as they report about him and have his case known, was asked by a teacher to change his shirt, which displayed a hunting rife and the slogan "protect your right." He refused and soon found himself in the principal's office. He was in the midst of explaining to his principal why exactly he refused to take the shirt off when a police officer stepped in.
“When the police came, I was still talking and telling them that this was wrong, that they cannot do this, it’s not against any school policy. The officer, he told me to sit down and be quiet. I said, ‘No, I’m exercising my right to free speech.’ I said it calmly,” he said.
He also holds that he did nothing illegal, and jailing him was a censorship of his pro Second Amendment views.
“What they’re doing is trying to take away my rights, my freedom of speech and my Second Amendment," he said.
Jared's step-father, Allen Lardieri, is also angered by the school's and police's actions, holding that his son was jailed for something that was blown out of proportion.
"I don't see how anybody would have an issue with a hunting rifle and NRA put on a T-shirt, especially when policy doesn't forbid it."
Their lawyer, Ben White, also believes that the shirt did not appear to violate any school policy, and added that while schools can place restriction on students to prevent disruptions, they cannot take away their right to freedom of speech.
White expects the charges to be dropped but plans to file a lawsuit against the school district for violating Marcum's rights.
Marcum's friends also wore T-shirts displaying firearms on Friday to protest his suspension, and at least one of them was asked to remove their clothing.
While Marcum's decision to wear the shirt is questionable within a school-setting, both the authorities and the school handled the situation incorrectly. Because the dress code failed specifically bar students from wearing clothing that displays guns, Marcum's shirt, which did not not carry any phrases that incited violence, was allowed under the school's dress code.