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Court OKs Wearing Anti-Bush Shirt at School

Reuters | August 31 2006

A U.S. student who sued school officials after he was made to censor his T-shirt that labeled President Bush "Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief" and a former alcohol and cocaine abuser won an appeal Wednesday to wear the T-shirt to school.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Zachery Guiles, who through his parents claimed his free speech rights had been violated when school officials made him put duct tape over parts of his T-shirt that showed a Bush image surrounded by cocaine, a razor blade, a straw and a martini.

Guiles, who as a seventh grader in 2004 wore the T-shirt to Williamstown Middle High School in Vermont once a week for two months after purchasing it at an anti-war rally, appealed the case after a lower court ruled in favor of the school.

The school argued the images were offensive because they undermined the school's anti-drug message.

The T-shirt read "George W. Bush" and "Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief" with a picture of the president's face wearing a helmet superimposed on the body of a chicken.

The back of the T-shirt showed lines of cocaine, a martini glass and smaller print that accused Bush of being a "Crook," "Cocaine Addict," AWOL," "Draft Dodger" and "Lying Drunk Driver."

The appeals court said while the T-shirt "uses harsh rhetoric and imagery to express disagreement with the president's policies and to impugn his character," the images depicted "are not plainly offensive as a matter of law."

"We conclude that defendants' censorship of the images on Guiles's T-shirt violated his free speech rights," the ruling said, noting the T-shirt was censored after only one parent with opposing political views complained.

"Guiles's T-shirt did not cause any disruption or confrontation in the school," the ruling said.

Lawyers involved in the case and the school were not immediately available for comment.

The court agreed with the lower court that ruled Guiles' suspension from school should be expunged from his record.

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