Judge Rules on Battle Over Student's Trump Portrait

The district painted it over. A judge put his foot down.
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2020 2:30 PM CDT
Judge to Teen: Your Trump Portrait Is Protected Speech
Stock image.   (Getty Images)

Want a painting of President Trump in your parking space? So be it. That's what a federal judge ruled Friday after a Louisiana teen's portrait of Trump sparked a brouhaha at his school, the Times-Picayune reports. "The painting of President Trump cannot reasonably be described as obscene or plainly offensive on its face, nor can it be construed as school-sponsored speech," US District Judge Eldon Fallon wrote, calling the Trump portrait a type of "pure political speech" the school can't prevent. The student, Ned Thomas, had the portrait commissioned after Pine Junior-Senior High School near Franklinton offered seniors the chance to paint their assigned spaces for a $25 fee. But Superintendent Frances Varnado soon painted over the image with the school board's approval.

Their reason? It's too political. Varnado said she was "concerned that the painting would cause further division and disruption among students—similar to that experienced within the school, parish, community and on social media." But Thomas' parents filed a federal lawsuit, and Fallon sided with them on First Amendment grounds. He conceded that school officials covered the painting "to avoid controversy," but said it's not like a Confederate flag image "which has an established meaning as a 'symbol of racism and intolerance.'" Now, Thomas says, his pal who painted it for $200 will come back and fix the image. "It's not anything obscene or absurd or anything to that extent, it’s just a picture of the president of the United States," he tells WWL. (Read more First Amendment stories.)

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