School Uniform Logo Flunks First Amendment

A federal appeals court revived the First Amendment challenge to a Nevada public elementary school’s mandatory uniforms Friday because the uniform included the words “Tomorrow’s Leaders” in the logo.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that because the uniforms were not plain, but included a logo, it implicated free speech rights and that requires a higher level of scrutiny by the courts to survive.

The panel reinstated the lawsuit by Mary and Jon Frudden, parents who strenuously objected to the 2011 mandatory uniforms ordered at RoyGommElementary School.

Although the circuit has approved public school uniforms as long ago as 1977, in that case the uniform was plain, without any expressive message.

The Frudden’s objected to the policy, despite a two-thirds approval vote by families at the school.

The policy does allow exceptions for nationally recognized youth organizations, such as Girls and Boy Scouts or Youth Soccer.

The Frudden’s children were disciplined for protesting the dress code by shunning it.  They failed to wear the uniforms, the school ordered them to comply or face detention or suspension. Their parents sued.  They argued the RGES uniform policy should be subject to strict scrutiny review by the courts because the logo unconstitutionally compels speech about leadership and it has a content-based exemption for nationally recognized youth organizations.

The federal district court dismissed the suit.

The 9th Circuit  reversed saying it agreed with the Fruddens.

“Practically speaking, RGES compels its students ‘to be an instrument’ for displaying the RGES motto,” wrote Judge Jacqueline Nguyen. “Had the RGES uniforms consisted of plain-colored tops and bottoms… RGES would have steered clear of any First Amendment concerns,” she said.  The logo amounts to compelled speech.

And the First Amendment analysis does not turn on the ideological message – “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” the court said.

The exemption for uniforms for nationally recognized group on regular meeting days, such as Boy and Girl Scouts, is content-based.

The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court in Nevada for further consideration.

Case: Frudden v. Pilling, No. 12-15403





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