This question has been at the heart of a California court battle between the Morgan Hill Unified School District and students who were told by a principal and assistant principal that they could not wear American flag t-shirts on the Mexican holiday back in 2010.
Following the incident, a lawsuit against the district was launched by the students and their families. This week, the case came to a close, with a federal judge ruling against the students -- a blow that is likely to infuriate some free speech advocates.
According to U. S. District Court Judge James Ware, the district did not violate the students' first amendment rights. The judge also found that officials' concern over the potential violence that could be incited by the students' pro-American outfits justified the school's actions. The Morgan Hill Times has more about the case:
[The parents and students] filed the lawsuit against the school district alleging violations against their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights after their children wore American-themed T-shirts to Live Oak and were sent home after refusing to remove the shirts and apparel after Boden and Rodriguez were concerned about the potential for violence on campus...
The lawsuit sought nominal damages including changing school policies to clearly state students' rights and protections under the Bill of Rights and reimbursing lawyer fees and expenses for the cost of litigation.
Here's a bit more of the background: After noticing that the students were wearing pro-American garb on May 5, 2010, Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez subsequently approached the kids, telling them to to either remove the garments or to turn their shirts inside out. School Principal Nick Boden was apparently also concerned over the potential for the outfits to create issues between Hispanic students and those wearing the clothing (both men were named in the lawsuit as well).
Following their refusal to comply, the students were allegedly taken to the school's office where Rodriguez talked with them about Cinco de Mayo. He apparently told them that their clothing would offend Hispanic students who observe the holiday.
Here's a KSBW-TV story from 2010 that provides background on the incident:
The Rutherford Institute and the Thomas More Law Center teamed up to represent the students and their families. John Whitehead, the president of Rutherford, was obviously less than content with the final decision. “This is nothing more than political correctness,” he said. “If these kinds of decisions are upheld, they will destroy our First Amendment rights."
The school district, though, defends the principal's actions and is elated by the recent decision. Wes Smith, who served as superintendent of the school district, says that he is very satisfied by the outcome. “We were encouraged to hear that the federal court found student safety paramount,” he said.
These comments seem somewhat disconnected from the statements Smith made just days after the incident unfolded. "This has certainly been a very difficult time for our school district," he said at a press conference on May 7, 2010. "School leaders have to make judgment calls on when to take preventative measures to pre-empt a possible incident or conflict. In this situation, it appears that a decision was made too quickly."
Rutherford is planning to appeal the court's decision.
(H/T: Fox News Radio)