The booting of Cindy Sheehan and Beverly Young from the Capitol during
the State of the Union Address because of their T-shirts was not an isolated
In the Bush Age, such hostility to free speech has become all too common.
Students have been booted from school, shoppers from malls, protesters from
Bush rallies, simply as a result of the shirts on their fronts.
Stephen F. Downs, the
chief lawyer for New York State's Commission on Judicial Conduct, was arrested
on March 3, 2003, for refusing to take off a peace T-shirt in a mall near Albany.
The shirt said "Peace on Earth" on one side and "Give Peace
a Chance" on the other. He had just purchased the shirt in Crossgates Mall,
the same mall that ordered him to remove it.
When the mall's security guards told him to take the shirt off or leave the
premises, Downs refused. They called the police, and he was handcuffed, arrested,
and charged with trespassing.
Downs pleaded not guilty, and the mall later dropped the charges.
Bretton Barber was a junior
at Dearborn High School in Michigan on February 17, 2003. That day, he was wearing
a T-shirt that had a picture of Bush on it and the words "International
Terrorist." "At lunch, the vice principal came and said I had to turn
it inside out or go home," Barber told The New York Times on Feb. 26. Barber
went home--and called the ACLU.
A judge later ruled that Barber must be allowed to wear the shirt in school.
Nicole and Jeff Rank
were in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 4, 2004, to protest a visit by President
Bush to the state capitol.
The Ranks, who are from Corpus Christi, Texas, gathered outside the capitol.
People near them "wore pro-Bush T-shirts and Bush-Cheney campaign buttons,
some of which were sold on the capitol grounds," according to the Charleston
Not the Ranks. They were wearing T-shirts that read "Love America, Hate
Bush," the Gazette reported.
The police evidently did not take kindly to that.
"Law enforcement officers told the couple to take the shirts off, cover
them, or get out," AP reported. "When they refused and sat down, they
were arrested." Two weeks later, the city apologized.
Jayson Nelson is a county
supervisor in Wisconsin. On July 14, 2004, President Bush came to Wisconsin
and gave a speech in a town called Ashwaubenon, and Jayson Nelson wanted to
He was wearing a "Kerry for President" T-shirt underneath his buttoned
up blue denim shirt.
As he approached the final screening point, Nelson says a Republican event
staffer demanded that he step out of the line and take off his top shirt.
"At first, I thought she wasn't even talking to me," he recalls,
"because who tells you that stuff? So I ignored her and kept going forward
and then she told me again, 'You, you, you, step out of line. You've got to
take off your shirt.' "
She told the police to look at his T-shirt, and the police told him he couldn't
be there and to get going, Nelson remembers.
On his way out, the Secret Service also stopped him. "They took my driver's
license and wrote down my Social Security number and telephone number,"
he says. "I started to ask, 'What's going on here? Is a T-shirt illegal?'
My favorite story, if you can call it that, is of three teachers in Oregon
who were sent packing from a Bush rally for wearing shirts that said ”Protect
Our Civil Liberties.”
On October 14, 2004, they decided to attend a Bush rally at the Jackson County
Fairgrounds near Medford, where they teach. They wanted to see their President,
and they also wanted to stand up for First Amendment rights, since they had
heard on NPR that the Bush campaign was curtailing such rights all along the
So they came up with an ingenious idea. They obtained tickets for the event,
and they made and wore T-shirts that said, "Protect Our Civil Liberties."
Alas, they were not allowed to hear the President. In fact, they were threatened
I talked with two of the three teachers, Tania Tong and her sister, Candice
Julian, both of whom teach special education to elementary school children in
Medford. The third is a student teacher named Janet Voorhies, who works with
"We didn't want to come up with anything that was offensive or antagonistic,"
says Julian, who says it was her idea to have the shirts say, "Protect
Our Civil Liberties."
"We were concerned about stories we had heard about people trying to go
to participate in rallies and being denied access because they had paraphernalia
that said something about Kerry," Tong explains. "We wanted to voice
our opinion in a way that wasn't degrading to anybody.
The shirt was really kind of benign."
At the fairgrounds, they showed their driver's licenses and tickets at the
first checkpoint. Campaign officials "were scrutinizing our T-shirts,"
Julian says, but they let the three in.
At the second checkpoint, which consisted of a metal detector staffed by the
Secret Service, more questions arose.
"People came up and said, 'Do you know this is a Bush rally? We're concerned
about your T-shirts,' " recalls Tong.
"We asked them why.
"They said, 'We don't want anything that's going to cause a disruption.'
"Then they asked, 'Are you going to vote for Bush?'
"And I said that I was undecided and my sister Candice said she was choosing
not to answer because it's a personal decision."
The campaign officials said they could go in if they could guarantee they would
not make a scene, Tong says. "We assured them that we did not come with
any intention of being disorderly, so they said fine and said they respected
our differing opinions," she recalls.
At that point, the three teachers assumed they were in, and that they could
take their seats and listen to the President.
No such luck.
Campaign officials soon told all three women to leave.
One official called their shirts “obscene,” Tong recalls.
The police then threatened them with disorderly conduct if they didn’t
(For more information on related infringements, go to www.progressive.org/mccarthy.)