October 22, 2020
An 18-year-old Florida high school senior has had his freedom of speech taken away after coming to school with a “TRUMP” elephant statue in the bed of his pickup truck. Today, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit in defense of his First Amendment rights and to ensure that all students have the freedom to take part in political speech.
In September, Tyler Maxwell—a supporter of President Trump—drove to Spruce Creek High School in Volusia County, Fla., with a new item in the bed of his pickup truck: a large red, white, and blue elephant statue with the word “TRUMP” painted on it. During his first period class, a school administrator pulled Maxwell out of class and told him that he had to take the elephant home immediately. Upon returning to school in his truck (with the elephant) the next day, Maxwell was met by school officials who demanded that he relinquish his parking permit, telling him that he would not be allowed to park his truck at the school again unless he removed the elephant.
The school says that it has a policy in place that limits political activity on campus. But that policy doesn’t actually address student speech or messages on vehicles. And the school doesn’t apply it consistently—after all, the school parking lot has cars with bumper stickers promoting Biden for president, and fellow students are permitted to wear Black Lives Matter apparel on campus with not a word from school administrators.
But free speech must be protected—no matter what side it takes on a political issue. That’s why the Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit on Maxwell’s behalf, so he can speak as all other members of his school community can. “School administrators might not like the message Tyler’s delivering with his pickup truck, but they still have to respect his free speech rights,” said Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert, who is representing Maxwell. “Other students, school staff, and school board members can speak their minds without fear of reprisal, and Tyler should be treated exactly the same.” Thanks to the involvement of American Freedom Network attorney Joseph van de Bogart, the Goldwater Institute is taking a stand for free expression rights.
The Goldwater Institute has been a fervent defender of free speech rights in our country’s schools. The Institute authored a bill to protect the right of students, staff, and outside guests to speak freely on college campuses, and many states—including North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia, among others—have adopted a version of it.
The Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network provides pro bono opportunities for private practitioners around the country. With attorneys barred in every state and the District of Columbia, the Network is expanding liberty-minded litigation in meaningful ways. If you are interested in learning more about this program, visit www.americanfreedomnetwork.net or contact Kileen Lindgren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE (October 23): The judge has granted a temporary restraining order in Tyler’s case, meaning that Tyler can return to his school parking lot with his Donald Trump elephant statue in the back of his truck.
“We’re pleased that the Court acted quickly to protect Tyler’s First Amendment rights,” said Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert, who represents Tyler in the lawsuit. “Tyler looks forward to returning to school on Monday.”