NRA T-shirt dispute: O.C. student says school violated her rights

An Orange County high school student says she feels like her 1st Amendment rights were violated when campus officials told her to remove a National Rifle Assn. T-shirt she was wearing or face disciplinary action.

Haley Bullwinkle, 16, heeded the demand, took off the white T-shirt and slipped on a school shirt that officials at Canyon High in Anaheim handed her, but came home confused and frightened, said her father, who got the shirt when he joined the NRA.

“I felt like they were violating my rights, my freedom of speech,” the sophomore said. “I want to be able to wear what I want to wear within reason.”

The school has since apologized, saying in a statement Thursday that campus staff will be trained so that “an incident like this does not occur again.”


When Haley first showed up in the white T-shirt -- featuring an American flag and silhouette of a hunter with a rifle and the slogan: “National Rifle Association of America, Protecting America’s Traditions Since 1871" -- campus officials apparently decided that it violated dress codes disallowing, among other things, depictions of violence, criminal activity and anything that’s degrading to ethnic values.

“If they’re going to try to characterize this shirt as depicting violence, then this policy is overboard,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney who has represented the NRA and was working with the Bullwinkle family at the organization’s request.

“School officials can’t write themselves a policy that gives them unfettered discretion.”

Principal Kimberly Fricker later concluded that the shirt didn’t promote violence, the Orange Unified School District said in a statement and the school apologized.

In 2012 Canyon High School made headlines for its “Seniores” and “Señoritas” events in which students dressed as gang members and a pregnant woman pushing a baby stroller.

The school, which approved the event, has since canceled it after determining the activities were demeaning toward Latinos and their culture.


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