Michigan mom sues school district after kids asked to remove ‘Let’s go Brandon’ sweatshirt

A mother has sued a Michigan school district, claiming her sons’ First Amendment rights were violated last year when they were asked repeatedly to remove clothing with the slogan “Let’s Go Brandon,” a political meme popular in conservative circles referring to a vulgar chant about Joe Biden.

In the suit, filed on Tuesday against the Tri City County Area Schools district, the parent alleges the school is censoring students who try to express support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to Mr Biden.

The legal action, brought with the support of the speech advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), argues the students shouldn’t be punished, so they “remain free to use their Constitutional rights at school, not just learn about them.”

Multiple times in 2022, according to the suit, the children at Tri County Middle School were asked to remove their “Let’s Go Brandon” clothes, which they complied with, fearing they would get in trouble.

“Schools can stop kids from dropping F-bombs in class and that’s entirely appropriate,” Conor Fitzpatrick of FIRE told The New York Times, “but these kids didn’t do that.”

The school’s dress code forbids “attire with messages or illustrations that are lewd, indecent, vulgar, or profane.”

The First Amendment case, if it goes forward, will turn on whether the slogan is itself profane, or just referencing something that is.

The “Let’s Go Brandon” meme began in 2021, when a reporter at a NASCAR race misheard a crowd chanting “f*** Joe Biden” as “Let’s go Brandon,” what she thought was a reference to driver Brandon Brown, who had just won a race at the Talladega Superspeedway.

The slogan quickly became popular on the right, emblazoned on t-shirts and hats at political rallies, and at the centre of various workplace controversies.

In 2021, Southwest Airlines announced it would investigate a pilot who used the phrase on an airliner’s PA system while addressing passengers.

Last year, the Tri City County Area Schools district released a statement saying, “‘Let’s Go Brandon’ is transparent code for using profanity against the President,” the Times reports.

Political speech is a touchy subject in public schools under the law, where a school’s unique custodial rights to dictate a safe and effective learning environment run up against students’ rights to protest.

In the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v Des Moines, the high court famously wrote that, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” in a ruling overturning the suspension of a group of students who wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam war.