Two students in northern New Jersey can wear buttons featuring a picture of Hitler youth to protest a school uniform policy, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. sided with the parents of the students, who had been threatened with suspension last fall for wearing the buttons. However, the judge added in his ruling that the boys will not be allowed to distribute the buttons at school.
Citing a 1969 case in Iowa involving students who wore black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War, Greenaway wrote that "a student may not be punished for merely expressing views unless the school has reason to believe that the speech or expression will 'materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.'"
The buttons bear the words "no school uniforms" with a slash through them superimposed on a photo of young boys wearing identical shirts and neckerchiefs. There are no swastikas visible on the buttons, but the parties agreed that they depict members of Hitler youth.
After the suspension threat, the boys' parents filed a federal lawsuit claiming the district stifled the children's First Amendment free speech rights.
District lawyers asserted that the image of the Hitler youth was abhorrent because it conveyed intolerance and racial inequality represented by Nazism.