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Boy sent home from school for refusing to take off patriotic shirt

Another day, another dress code violation. This time hands aren’t being wrung over bare shoulders or leggings. Instead, a middle schooler is in trouble for his decision to wear a patriotic shirt with a “battlefield cross” on it.

The “battlefield cross” refers to a battlefield memorial for a fallen soldier — rifle stuck into the ground with boots at the base, topped by a helmet and sometimes the soldier’s dog tags. You’ve probably seen the image before, and most reasonable people consider it to be a sign of respect as opposed to a promotion of violence. Here’s an image of the shirt in question, if you’d like to decide for yourself.

More: Teen blasts school’s discriminatory dress code with scathing brilliance

Alan Holmes is a 13-year-old middle school student in Gresham, Oregon. His brother, a former Marine, served in, and returned from, Iraq — and is responsible in part for inspiring Alan’s patriotism. That’s why Alan was very upset when he faced a choice: take the shirt off, or go to in-school suspension. He chose a third: keep the shirt on, and head home for the rest of the school day. What makes the violation more baffling is that it’s hard to suss out the part of the dress code he’s violating. The language that most closely references Alan’s T-shirt is a section on “illicit drugs” and “violence”, which reads:

“Clothing with Obscene, Profane, Alcohol, Tobacco, Illicit Drug and/or Violence Related References Clothing with obscene or profane references and comments, and clothing with alcohol, tobacco, illicit drug and/or violence related references are prohibited.”

Um, OK. Does anyone actually look at a shirt like that and think it’s profane, obscene or referencing violence? Yes, I suppose you could say it alludes to war, though it does so respectfully. Certainly, by the time kids reach middle school, they’ll be reading (and seeing) much worse in their own textbooks. So can the image actually be deemed obscene?

Not reasonably, which is why this violation, and most dress code violations, are extremely stupid.

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The Roth test alludes to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously saying of obscenity, “I know it when I see it,” and it refers to the fact that while objectivity is nice, subjectivity is required if we’re going to punish someone for wearing or saying something. So it’s great to say, “Don’t wear clothing that references violence,” but idiotic to shoehorn images like this into that description.

We seriously need a Roth test for student dress codes, because these cases are spinning out of control. A respectful image of a battlefield cross should not violate dress code, and neither should a sundress designed for a 5-year-old.

More: Preschool’s ‘modesty’ rule for 3-year-olds put one mom over the edge

Of course, that can be a real task: actually using your brain and not succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction every time you see a gun or a bare shoulder. That’s why we’ve helpfully gathered some examples of shirts with guns on them that are, in fact, not appropriate for kids to wear to school:

Image: PatriotDepot

This one says “Smile, wait for flash.” Charming. (PatriotDepot, $20)

Image: Poputees

Here’s one that actually references violence. See the difference? (Poputees, $10)

Image: Karmaloop

And finally, a shirt that is a scantily clad lass subset into the silhouette of a handgun. Obscene and violent. (Karmaloop, $20)

When you juxtapose shirts like these against shirts like the one Alan wore, it’s easy to see which ones pass the sniff test for kids in schools and which ones don’t. The best part about using your common sense when determining which clothing is appropriate and which isn’t is that it isn’t really very hard at all.

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