How would you present the plaintiff's view in this hypothetical case?
The annual Smallville Fair is the community event of the year. Attendance is always high, with community members going to enjoy the thrill rides, the exhibits, and the food, as well as to “see and be seen.” Principal Cuthbert of Smallville High School is there, and as he turns the corner (around the “Guess Your Age or Weight” exhibit,) he is shocked by what he sees. In front of the “Bearded Lady” exhibit is the star Smallville High School quarterback, senior Coy Gunner. Gunner is wearing a green “tee-shirt” depicting a Christ-like figure smoking a marijuana cigarette; in large yellow letters on the front of the shirt are the words “Joints For Jesus.” On the back of the shirt (again, in large yellow letters) is the following: “WWJS: What Would Jesus Smoke?!”
Principal Cuthbert immediately confronts Gunner, exclaiming “Coy Gunner, I cannot believe you would wear such a disgusting shirt. You have offended my Christian principles and beliefs, as well as the religious beliefs of countless numbers of Smallville
citizens attending this fair. Further, you have disgraced Smallville High School. As the star quarterback of our football team, you of all people should know that you are a role model for your fellow students, as well as younger kids in the community. I will see you in my office Monday morning at 7:30 a.m..”
Gunner arrives at Principal Cuthbert’s office on Monday morning to discover that Principle Cuthbert has decided to suspend him for ten school days. Gunner objects, saying “I remember in civics class that Mr. Campbell told us we have the right to free speech. I object to the suspension, and if you don’t change your mind, Principle Cuthbert, my dad knows a good attorney who might want to speak with you.”
How would you present the plaintiff's views in this case?
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If I were a lawyer arguing this case I would present two main points.
First, I would argue that the principal of the school had no jurisdiction over the t-shirt that Gunner was wearing while he attended the Smallville Fair. Past cases have held that school officials do have a right to censor speech that could reasonably be seen to have school approval. In Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the Court found that a school newspaper could be seen in this way. In Morse v. Frederick, the Court found that a banner unfurled across the street from a high school by a student who had been allowed out of class (along with the other students) to watch the Olympic torch relay could also be seen in this way. However, the fair cannot reasonably be seen as a school event. So far as we can tell, Gunner is not with other students and the fair is not even on school property. So far as we can tell, it is not even happening during regular school hours. Therefore, Cuthbert has no jurisdiction.
However, it is best to have more than one argument in case the first argument fails. Therefore, I would argue that the shirt’s message was not one that should have been censored even if it had been at school. I would not expect to win this, but I would probably present it. I would say that the shirt did not promote any illegal or undesirable activity. I would argue that the shirt was a parody of things like the ubiquitous “WWJD” bracelets. I would argue that no reasonable person could see it as an actual promotion of the use of illegal drugs. Therefore, even if the court somehow found that the fair was a school event, Gunner should not be suspended.
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