December 7, 2020
By Jacob Huebert
Florida high-school senior Tyler Maxwell has won a final victory in the lawsuit he brought to protect his First Amendment right to display his support for President Trump in his pickup truck.
In September, Maxwell drove to school with a new item in the bed of his pickup truck: a large red, white, and blue elephant statue emblazoned with the word “TRUMP” on the side. A school administrator pulled Maxwell out of his first-period class and ordered him to take the elephant home immediately. When he returned to school with the truck (and the elephant) the next day, Maxwell was met by a school official who demanded that he hand over his parking permit and told him that he couldn’t park at the school again unless he removed the elephant.
On October 22, Goldwater Institute lawyers, together with American Freedom Network attorney Joseph Van de Bogart, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district on Maxwell’s behalf. The next day, a judge issued a temporary restraining order to allow Maxwell to return to school with the elephant.
Today, the court issued a final judgment in which it declared that the school violated Maxwell’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech when it revoked his parking pass, and ordered the school to allow him to continue to bring the elephant to school, if he chooses, through the end of the school year.
A groundbreaking decision? Not exactly. More than 50 years ago, the Supreme Court made clear that students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” and said that schools may not censor a student’s expression unless there are “facts which might reasonably [lead] school authorities to forecast” that it would cause “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.”
But since then schools have needed frequent reminders of their responsibility to respect students’ rights. And unfortunately such reminders have lately become more necessary than ever as universities, colleges, and even high schools all too often try to suppress ideas that administrators or activists dislike.
That makes the decision reaffirming students’ rights in Tyler Maxwell’s case—by Judge Roy Dalton, Jr, whom President Barack Obama appointed to the federal bench in 2011—all the more important.
It’s also why the Goldwater Institute has undertaken a project to protect campus free speech, not only through litigation, but also through legislation. Many states have adopted a bill the Institute authored to protect the right of students, staff, and outside guests to speak freely on college campuses, including North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia, among others. You can read more about what the Goldwater Institute is doing to protect free speech in schools at restorefreespeech.com.
Jacob Huebert is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.