A Maine teenager complained his rights were violated after teachers and other students mocked him for wearing a Donald Trump hat to school.
Conner Mullen started wearing the hat — which bears the slogan, “Make America Great Again” — to South Portland High School about three weeks ago, after he attended a Trump rally, reported the Portland Press Herald.
“I like the slogan, I like Donald Trump and I like hats,” said the 16-year-old sophomore.
Mullen, who wants to pursue a career in law enforcement or the military, said students have teased him about the hat, and one girl took it from his head and threw it in the trash.
But he complained to administrators after two school employees made fun of him, including a teacher who said, “Thank God you can’t vote.”
An education technician at the school took Mullen’s hat from his head during a discussion of uninformed voters, and other students laughed when the staffer held it up.
“I knew kids would pick on me about it, that’s just kids being kids, but when the adults started doing it I thought that’s problematic,” Mullen said. “This is a school that preaches equality.”
The mockery only grew worse after the controversy was reported Friday by WCSH-TV.
Mullen said he wore the hat Monday, realizing that other students would be expecting him to, and he said another student told him, “I’m glad you’re being bullied,” after students knocked the hat from his head.
The school superintendent said administrators learned about the situation after a teacher reported the girl knocking the hat from Mullen’s head, and an assistant principal asked Mullen not to wear it to school.
“People wear the Bernie [Sanders] pins all the time, and I’ve never heard anything about them,” Mullen said. “But I wear this hat, and now it’s, ‘Keep the hat at home.'”
Superintendent Ken Kunin said the assistant principal then told him about the teacher’s comments, and he has since spoken to that teacher and the education technician.
“We said, of course, ‘That’s not okay — you don’t do that,'” Kunin told the Press Herald. “We defend our students’ First Amendment rights.”
The superintendent compared the student’s Trump hat to black arm bands worn by high school students to protest the Vietnam War, and which sparked a landmark 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case that established protections for students’ free speech rights.
The court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines that neither students nor teachers should be expected to shed their free speech rights “at the schoolhouse gate” as long as their demonstration did not disrupt school activities.
The superintendent and school principal apparently don’t think Mullen’s hat represents a “material and substantial disruption” of school activities, as defined by the court ruling, because they’ve encouraged hi to continue wearing the Trump hat.
“This is a beautiful problem to have in a school because it’s a chance to practice democracy,” Kunin said. “It’s a great example of why we need public schools. You don’t all of a sudden wake up and know how to act in a democracy. You learn how to act in a democracy.”
It’s not against the rules to wear hats in the school, although some students said they don’t like Mullen’s hat.
“I think if you’re wearing a Trump hat around here, you know people aren’t going to like it,” said senior Caity Gaven, who said she thought Mullen was “trying to start something” by wearing the hat to school.
Another senior defended Mullen’s right to wear the hat, although she made an unintentional allusion to violent remarks Trump made about a smiling protester at one of his rallies.
“I don’t think he deserves (to be bullied), he hasn’t done anything,” said senior Gavin Damian-Loring. “It’s like saying you don’t like someone else’s shirt so you have the right to punch them in the face.”
Watch this video report posted online by WCSH-TV: