T-shirts handed out by a National Guard recruiter at a local high school have caused heated debate among parents, students and the school district. The Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk superintendent says the shirts are not appropriate for students to be wearing in school.
The T-shirts in question say “National Guard” across the top and then show the silhouette of a solider holding a gun in front of the American Flag. The school district says it has a very strict policy forbidding students from wearing any clothing that has a weapon on it….
Superintendent of RCS Schools, Alan McCartney says rules are rules and if an exception is made for one shirt with a gun on it, where do you draw the line? “One of the problems you have in school during this period in our history is that the weapon becomes the focal point for some people,” McCartney says…. “[T]his has nothing to do with patriotism, nothing to do with anybody disliking the military, it has nothing to do with the recruiter himself, it just has to do with the fact that there was a weapon on the shirt and that just doesn’t have a place in a high school,” he says….
A number of students refused to take the shirts off on Friday, saying that they felt the policy was disrespectful to the recruiter who is an active member of the National Guard.
“A pointed gun is just not appropriate for a high school,” said Alan McCartney, the interim superintendent of the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk School District….
“A couple of teachers realized [the T-shirt] showed a silhouette of a rifleman on it,” McCartney told me in a telephone interview. “I realize some students look at the t-shirt and all they see is the National Guard. And that is a good thing. Others look at the shirt and all they see is the rifle.” …
McCartney told me the shirts violated the school’s dress code.
“Our code of conduct says no t-shirts depicting violence or weapons,” he said….
“Where do you draw the line?” the superintendent asked. “Is it okay to wear this weapon because it’s a National Guardsman wielding it? (But it’s not okay) if you’ve got a t-shirt on from a video game that shows somebody aiming at gun at somebody’s head?”
We try to be consistent, he said.
“We are here to educate students to be neutral,” McCartney said. “To create an environment where there isn’t a lot of controversy within the environment.”

Well, you could draw a line where the Supreme Court drew the line, vague as it is: where speech creates a substantial disruption to school activities (and not just “controversy within the environment”), where it contains vulgarities or sexual innuendo, or where it is not political but is plausibly interpreted as advocating seriously harmful illegal conduct (such as drug use, or perhaps gun crime). And you could figure out where not to draw the line by looking at cases such as Newsom ex rel. Newsom v. Albemarle County School Bd. (4th Cir. 2003), which held that a school ban on “messages on clothing, jewelry, and personal belongings that relate to … weapons” was likely unconstitutionally overbroad.

And you could recognize that pictures of weapons — which are an important part of history, of lawful American life, and naturally of our national defense — are not out of place on the New York state flag, the Great Seal of the United States, National Guard T-shirts, or in high schools more broadly.

Thanks to Robert Dittmer for the pointer.