Theodore's World: He Wore Feelings On His T-shirt

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March 10, 2008

He Wore Feelings On His T-shirt

Donald Miller III, a freshman at Penn Manor School, and his mother, Tina, decided to take action after school officials told him to turn his shirt inside out or face detention.

Counterclockwise from top: Attorney Leonard G. Brown III speaks with Donald Miller III and his mother, Tina; Donald Miller III in the controversial shirt; the photo on the front of the shirt, as well as the back, depicts a military sidearm.

Parents believe son’s wearing of anti-terrorist message was patriotic; Penn Manor saw images of guns and thought of school violence. Family sues on First Amendment grounds.

Lancaster news

One day in December, Donald Miller III wore a gun to school. As you might imagine, it got him in trouble.

But the gun wasn't loaded; indeed, it wasn't a real gun at all. It was the image of a gun, printed on the front and back of a T-shirt — a shirt the Penn Manor freshman wore to honor his uncle, a soldier in the U.S. Army fighting in Iraq.

On the front pocket, in addition to the picture of the military sidearm, were the words: "Volunteer Homeland Security." On the back, superimposed over another image of the weapon, the words "Special issue — Resident — Lifetime License — United States Terrorist Hunting Permit — Permit No. 91101 Gun Owner — No Bag Limit."

They are, said Miller, 14, patriotic sentiments in a time of war. He feels pretty strongly about these things.

So do officials at the Penn Manor School District, who wanted him to turn his shirt inside out. When Miller refused, he got two days of detention.

His parents, Donald and Tina Miller of Holtwood, got angry and called a lawyer.

And now a lawsuit has been filed in federal court, accusing Penn Manor of violating Miller's First Amendment rights. The Millers and their attorney, Leonard G. Brown III of the Lancaster firm Clymer & Musser, accuse the school district of following a "vague Orwellian policy" that throttles both patriotism and free speech.

Penn Manor says the case has less to do with free speech than it does guns.

In the post-Columbine era, said Kevin French, an attorney for Penn Manor, school districts are duty-bound to create a safe environment for students, a place where intimations of violence aren't permitted. District officials aren't trying to impugn Miller's patriotism, said French. But when someone brings even the image of a gun to school, he says, that violates school policy.

And the district, he said, will fight to keep it intact.

The start

The incident happened Dec. 4, according to the federal complaint. But the story actually begins last spring.

That's when Miller's uncle, Brian Souders, shipped out to Iraq. He had been stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., and bought the shirt at the base post exchange, or PX, and gave it to Donald as a gift.

With his uncle on the front lines of the "War on Terror," Donald said he wanted to show his support. And so one day toward the end of eighth grade, he wore the shirt to school — and was admonished by Penn Manor Middle School officials. Donald didn't want to get in trouble, so he turned the shirt inside out.

But he didn't think that was right. In early December, he wore the shirt to Penn Manor High School. No one said a word about it all day, he said, until his final period, when a classmate complained to the teacher.

The teacher asked him to turn the shirt inside out, but he refused. Miller was sent to the principal's office. Once there, he said he was again told to turn the shirt inside out.

"I told them to call my parents," said Miller. And his refusal to comply resulted in detention.

Three days later attorney Brown sent a letter to Penn Manor Superintendent Donald Stewart asserting that the "strong-arm censorship by school officials amounts to content discrimination and is unconstitutional."

But, wrote Brown, the Millers wished to "resolve this issue amicably" and "avoid unnecessary litigation and media attention." Brown asked that the district rescind the detention, allow Miller to wear the shirt, provide training to district employees on the subject of students' constitutional rights — and pay attorney fees, about $2,500.

Initially, the district decided to make a concession: It agreed to drop a line from its "student expression policy" that prohibited speech seeking "to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view." And in a Jan. 8 letter to Brown, district solicitor Robert J. Frankhouser, of the Lancaster law firm of Hartman Underhill & Brubaker, said Penn Manor might be willing to consider tinkering with other, similar policies.

But on the issue of guns, and the advocating of violence, the district vowed to "vigorously defend its policy and the application of policy in this instance," wrote Frankhouser. Students, he wrote, "may not wear clothing to school that advocates the use of force or urges the violation of law or school regulations.
"The shirt in question contains the image of a firearm and clearly advocates illegal behavior," he wrote.

That, he concluded, should be the end of the matter.

It wasn't. A week later Brown filed the lawsuit, asking the federal courts to declare Penn Manor's policies unconstitutional and to grant a permanent injunction forcing Penn Manor to let Miller to wear his shirt. The suit also seeks "nominal damages and compensatory damages," attorneys fees and costs, and "further relief as it is just and proper."

"Donald Miller wears the T-shirt to make the political and emotional statement that he supports his uncle, and all our armed forces, as they bravely exercise their duty to defend this great nation," Brown wrote in the federal complaint.
"The message that Mr. Miller's shirt conveyed was simply that the United States military and law enforcement personnel are actively engaged in a war against terrorists who seek to destroy this country. … Mr. Miller's shirt makes a political statement that he agrees with and supports the efforts of his uncle and the rest of our military," Brown wrote.
"Such a viewpoint may not be politically correct in Mr. Miller's classrooms, but his right to express his viewpoint is constitutionally protected."

A federal judge will hold a conference on the case March 31, to either reach a settlement or proceed.

The case is beginning to generate interest online, where the conservative news site published an article on the lawsuit last week. That story, like the federal complaint itself, focused on the alleged attempt to censor political, patriotic speech.

Contacted by the Sunday News, Penn Manor Superintendent Stewart said he had "nothing to add to the comments of our solicitor." He did, however, tell WorldNet Daily that, "It's the district's position the wording on the T-shirt advocated violation of the law and acts of violence.

"The district," he told WorldNet Daily, "feels it's taken an appropriate stance in terms of T-shirts or anything a student would wear that advocates acts of violence."
But Brown countered last week: "If you believe something is going to create violence, you have to show a history of that in Penn Manor," Brown said. "If this shirt was truly something creating a [dangerous] environment in school, it should have been picked up first thing."

School board president C. Willis Herr did not respond to a message seeking comment.

This would not be the first incident in which T-shirts at Penn Manor provoked controversy — in 1997, a group of about 30 Penn Manor students wore white T-shirts to school to proclaim white supremacy.

Still, attorney French, speaking on behalf of the district, said the Millers and Penn Manor "are talking about two different things." The Millers, and Brown, want this issue to be about freedom of speech, he said.

Penn Manor is talking about guns.

"In light of incidents of violence in schools," said French, both district officials and district parents tend to come down on the side of caution. "Students who come to school enjoy limited First Amendment rights," French said, "but the school district has the right to enforce policies that protect students. And all this has to be understood in the context of what's happening today — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University."
"There's a much higher level of sensitivity these days," admits French.
"But it's based on reality."

Wild Thing's comment........

When parents and schools make guns the enemy, when they teach liberal thinking in the reason why our country is free and how some phony miraculous way peace exists and not because of the power of our military, and how there is a right way to fight for peace to keep peace through military strength and not from some fear of guns or chanting make love not war on a sign held on a street corner, well then this kind of stupid thinking will abound.

This story is a good example of how out of control the liberal mindset has gone in controlling the minds of young Americans. This boy meant no harm, his shirt sent a message of support for those fighting terrorism and also a message to terrorists as well with the "United States hunting permit" logo. He wore it because he was proud of his Uncle was serving our country and fighting terrorists.

He was not wearing a shirt that demanded anarchy, or violence against citizens of the USA. His shirt said nothing even close to the t-shirts worn at the same school in "1997, a group of about 30 Penn Manor students wore white T-shirts to school to proclaim white supremacy."

We say to ourselves how the hell did we get people thinking like the anti-war jerks, how do they not see why we are free, who paid the price for our freedom and why we can live in peace. Well schools like this, that instill fear of wearing something that supports our troops, speaks out against terrorism is just one of the reasons why we are more and more living in the land of oz where the liberal socialist agenda spreads like a virus across our land.

....Thank you Mark for sending me this article.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 01:50 AM


These are the same PC lunes that look the other way when Old Glory is burned, and want UNDER GOD removed from the Pledge of Allegiance!

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at March 10, 2008 04:22 AM

How about this 7-year old who was suspended for drawing a picture of a gun?

Posted by: BobF at March 10, 2008 07:14 AM

The zero tolerance has gone too far!
Sure, maybe the parents should have told the kid that the shirt might be too offensive to wear to school and to maybe just wear it on the weekends, but where do we draw the line on freedom of speech? Don't the kids have rights too?
I myself probably would not allow my kids to wear something like that to school because that's my choice.
And what about what other kids wear that might be offensive? Do we have to start sending the kids to school naked?

Posted by: Lynn at March 10, 2008 10:27 AM

This is just another classic example of how f***ed up our public school system is!!!! They are more worried about how we look, talk and dress than they are about teaching our kids proper English, math, and the history of their awesome heritage!!!

I remember going to school and seeing other students bring in a new gun or knife to show off. Nobody got detention or expelled!! In fact, sometimes the teachers would admire the gun or knife and offer to help the student learn proper handling of it.

The crux of the problem is kids having kids and neither parent at home to teach their kids, honor, discipline, courtesy, and responsibility. Instead they expect daycare centers and schools to raise their kids but God help them if they try to correct the kids.

The other problem whether anyone wants to admit it or not is television and video games. Don't get me wrong.....I'm not against structured TV and video challenges but kids will mimic what they are exposed to and when they think they can solve all the world's problems in 2 hours or totally annihilate someone who upsets them without consequences, what do we expect they will do in the real world environment?!?!?! What happened to the days of reading books and playing outdoors and stretching your imagination? It is only going to get worse before it gets better!!!!

Posted by: John at March 10, 2008 12:06 PM

No longer are they class rooms of higher learning, only indoctrination, look to California for the lead in the gulag system. Well said John.

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
--Thomas Paine

Posted by: Jack at March 10, 2008 01:01 PM

This public school PC zero tolerance crap is just one more example of why the United States is becoming less and less competitive in the global marketplace. No amount of electioneering decrying the outsourcing of jobs and the promoting of protectionist policies can reverse the damage done by an incompetent public school system.

Someone should come up with a Tee shirt that shows a Report Card listing "Public School education" with a large red "F" grade.

Posted by: Les at March 10, 2008 01:47 PM

Let's see, Guns are leagal. This is not just a first ammendment issue, its a second ammendment issue too. Military activity is legal too. The only border line case the school district has is that it is not clear to me that the shirt mentions the US military. It mentions volenteers, such as non military. Is it legal to shoot and kill a terrorist? If you are defending your self from an act of violence it is. A terrorist is be definition and act of voilence against civilians, so even that act is legal.

Posted by: Odin at March 10, 2008 06:00 PM

Darth that is so sad and so terrible.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:14 PM

Bob, oh wow , thank you for the link.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:16 PM

Lynn,yes, I agree, it should be up to the parents like you said.

I have some shirts I only wear at home around the house, I know they are too strong in what they say like the one with Mohammad on it. I never would wear that out.

The thing with this was the reason and they need to be very careful how they go about saying no and the reason why.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:20 PM

John I agree so much.

I hardly ever see kids playing like we all used to do. Now they all have their heads in those games they carry around and never look up to talk to anyone.

And like you said too, books, we used to read a lot.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:23 PM

Thank you for that quote, it sure fits this.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:26 PM

Les, yes if they were doing better at teaching I might respect their opinion more. But they are not, kids graduate that still cannot read, they teach a history that is a total lie, they teach sex education to small children that should be left innocent, and a list a mile long in the things schools do that are not being a good school.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:29 PM

Odin, that is true, I think if it was say Go Navy shirt or a USMC shirt it might be ok. But I know one school that would not allow those either, sad but true.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 10, 2008 11:33 PM