by HNN Staff

Charleston (HNN) — In a case that it claims tests the limits of a school’s ability to censor student speech, the American Civil Liberties Union Thursday, April 27, 2005 filed a lawsuit in federal court here charging that a high school student’s rights were violated when school officials disciplined him for wearing a T-shirt bearing an image of the Confederate flag.

"Permitting some expressions of political or controversial speech by students while banning others is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment," said ACLU of West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider. "In an educational environment, student expression that does not disrupt school activities can be a subject for dialogue and debate, rather than censorship. The school is missing an excellent opportunity to teach students about their constitutional rights."

Franklin Bragg, a senior at Hurricane High School, was born and raised in the Teays Valley area. When he appeared at school in November 2004 wearing a T-shirt bearing an image of what he refers to as the "rebel flag," he was disciplined for violating the school’s dress code. Although Bragg said he wore the T-shirt to express pride in his Southern heritage, he was told that he could not wear a depiction of the flag because some people were offended by it. According to Bragg, however, no students made any comments about his T-shirt.

Bragg also said that other students at Hurricane High School often wear clothing expressing a variety of political or cultural viewpoints without any incident.

ACLU affiliates across the country have successfully defended students who have been punished for wearing T-shirts that school officials deemed "inappropriate," including T-shirts bearing anti-war, gay pride, or Christian messages.

The lawsuit seeks expungement from Bragg’s record of any disciplinary action taken in response to the T-shirt, a declaration that his rights were violated by the school, and unspecified damages.

Bragg is represented by Roger Forman, ACLU of West Virginia cooperating attorney, and ACLU staff attorney Terri Baur."

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