2 Wisconsin schools sued for allegedly prohibiting gun-emblazoned T-shirts

The Kettle Moraine School District defends its ban, saying, "Wearing shirts with images of weapons is not an issue of free speech, and it can be respectfully regulated."
Image: Kettle Moraine High School in Wisconsin barred students from wearing pro-gun t-shirts.
Kettle Moraine High School in Wisconsin barred students from wearing pro-gun t-shirts.Courtesy of John Monroe

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By David K. Li and Caitlin Fichtel

Two Wisconsin schools that allegedly prohibited students from wearing gun-emblazoned T-shirts have been hit with federal lawsuits.

Parents Tara Lloyd and Kimberly Newhouse filed suit against the top administrator of Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee. They claim their sons' First Amendment rights were violated by Principal Beth Kaminski when she told them to cover up shirts with messages promoting firearms.

One wore a T-shirt with a logo of Wisconsin Carry, Inc., a gun rights advocacy group in the Badger State, and the other bore the words, "Pew Professional," under the image of a rapid-fire rifle.

Kaminsky asked the students to cover their shirts on Feb. 19, according to the lawsuit filed in Milwaukee the next day by the parents' attorney, John Monroe.

Monroe is based in Dawsonville, Georgia, and bills his practice as the "premier gun rights law firm" in the Peach State.

"Both shirts depict firearms in a non-violent, non-threatening manner," Monroe wrote. "The WCI Shirt advertises for and supports Wisconsin Carry, Inc., a grassroots gun rights organization. The Pew Shirt supports responsible firearm use through improving marksmanship."

A Kettle Moraine school district spokesman said Tuesday that the school system is well within its rights to set dress codes.

"Providing a safe learning environment, physically and emotionally, for all students in KM’s schools is a top priority," the statement said. "Wearing shirts with images of weapons can be respectfully regulated by the District."

Nik Clark, chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Carry, Inc., said his organization is funding the lawsuit against the Kettle Moraine High principal, and is backing another, similar civil complaint filed in Green Bay a week earlier.

In that case, parent Kelly Jacob claims Shattuck Middle School Associate Principal David Sonnabend violated her son's First Amendment rights by barring him from wearing two gun-themed T-shirts — one with the inscription "Smith & Wesson Firearms," and the other stating, "I'm a Patriot — Weapons are Part of My Religion."

Jacob is also being represented by the same Georgia gun rights lawyer, Monroe.

"There have never been any incidents of significant disruption of Shattuck Middle School based on a student's clothing depicting firearms in a non-threatening, non-violent manner," Monroe wrote. "Plaintiff's t-shirts has never caused a disruption at Shattuck Middle School."

But a spokesman for the Neenah Joint School District, which includes Shattuck Middle School — about 40 miles south of Green Bay — told NBC News on Tuesday that Jacob's child has not been barred from wearing any shirt.

School officials have "not required any students to change a shirt depicting a firearm, nor has the District violated any students' First Amendment rights," according to district spokesman Jim Strick.

Monroe said Tuesday that "all the information that we have is that they have" barred the gun-themed shirts.

The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." In both lawsuits, Monroe also said his clients were denied their 14th Amendment rights to due process.