First Amendment

School uniforms with 'Tomorrow’s Leaders' motto amount to compelled speech, 9th Circuit says

A trial court must reconsider a First Amendment challenge to elementary school uniforms that sport a “Tomorrow’s Leaders” motto, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the required uniforms are compelled speech, and strict scrutiny should be applied to evaluate the constitutional claim. The decision (PDF) sends the case filed by parents Mary and Jon Frudden back to a trial court. The Los Angeles Times’ L.A. Now blog and Education Week have stories.

The lower court will consider whether the Roy Gomm Elementary School in Reno, Nev., had countervailing interests that justified the policy.

The school’s uniforms consist of tan or khaki bottoms and red or navy polo-style shirts with the motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders” above the elementary school logo, which consists of a gopher and the school name. There are exemptions. One is for students who wear uniforms of nationally recognized youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts on meeting days.

The court said the “Tomorrow’s Leaders” motto and the youth-group exemption both implicate free speech concerns.

The Fruddens objected to the motto for conveying two viewpoints: that leadership should be celebrated, or at least valued above being a follower, and that the school is, in fact, likely to produce tomorrow’s leaders.

Updated at 3:14 p.m. to correct a typographical error.

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