Student sues Wis. high school over dress code that bars him from wearing shirt with gun image

WALES, Wis. (WTMJ/CNN) - The parents of two students at a Wisconsin high school are suing the school’s principal, alleging their children have had their right to free speech violated because they are not allowed to wear T-shirts that show images of guns.

Robert Newhouse, a sophomore at Kettle Moraine High School, is not old enough to own a gun, but he is a gun rights supporter. He and another student recently wore T-shirts to school that had an image of a firearm and supported gun rights organizations.

The teenager says the two were told by the principal that students are not allowed to wear clothes that depict guns. The lawsuit also stated that the school dress code prohibits wearing anything threatening, violent and illegal, such as drugs and alcohol.

Robert Newhouse, a sophomore at Kettle Moraine High School, is a gun rights supporter. He recently wore a T-shirt to school that had an image of a firearm and supported gun rights organizations but was told by the principal he couldn't wear it.
Robert Newhouse, a sophomore at Kettle Moraine High School, is a gun rights supporter. He recently wore a T-shirt to school that had an image of a firearm and supported gun rights organizations but was told by the principal he couldn't wear it. (Source: WTMJ/CNN)

"I can understand if it was something that was very threatening or very violent," said Kimberly Newhouse, Robert's mother. "But just to have a picture and to be a supporter of our gun rights and be a supporter of legal ownership of guns, it was very upsetting."

The students claim the school dress code does not have the stated policy and that their T-shirts depicted firearms in a non-violent, non-threatening manner.

"It doesn't matter what your dress code says. The Constitution of the United States and the First Amendment trumps your dress code," said Nik Clark, chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Carry, Inc., a gun rights group.

A classmate of Robert Newhouse’s wore a T-shirt sold by Clark’s group, and Clark has helped fund the lawsuit.

"If a school sanctions a walkout to call for gun control, to call for universal background checks, to call for red flag laws, certainly, they should at least allow a student to wear a non-violent, non-threatening T-shirt as they go about their daily business," Clark said.

The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the school from banning the T-shirts and cover any attorney fees associated with the case. Robert Newhouse just hopes it will allow him to wear the shirt again.

"I definitely don’t feel like it’s fair because I see other people expressing their other beliefs I may disagree with, but I’m not going after them because of that. I feel like I’m getting targeted because of my political beliefs," he said.

The Kettle Moraine School District said in a statement it could not comment directly on the pending case but asserts it is allowed to ban T-shirts depicting weapons.

“We can say that it has been recognized by courts that the district has legitimate pedagogical concerns in preventing violence in its schools, and we take that concern seriously. Wearing shirts with images of weapons is not an issue of free speech, and it can be respectfully regulated by the district," read the statement in part.

Copyright 2020 WTMJ, Family photos via CNN. All rights reserved.