(Court TV) "I pledge the grievance to the flag
Of the United State of America
And to the Republicans whom I can't stand
One nation under smog, indespicable
With liberty and justice for some, not all."

When 15-year-old Katie Sierra wore T-shirts bearing this version of the
American pledge as well as other sayings that showed her opposition to
the war in Afghanistan, teachers and students at her West Virginia High
School were outraged.

Some students of Sissonville High School allegedly threatened to give
Katie a taste of "West Virginia justice."

Though only 15, Katie Sierra had attended over a
dozen schools before arriving at Sissonville
High School in the fall of 2001 because she moved around a lot with her
mother, Amy. Katie, a good student with no history of behavioral
problems, says she heard that the West Virginia High School wasn't as
liberal as other schools she was used to, and characterizes the students

as bigots.

The school's principal, Forrest Mann, suspended Katie for three days and

forbid her to wear the controversial shirts, saying that her behavior
was "disrupting school activity." Mann says his job is to guarantee
students a safe school and good education  which became impossible in
the volatile environment resulting from the controversy. Mann also
denied Katie's request to start an anarchy club.

Following her suspension, Katie contacted the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU), which took up her cause. She filed a suit against the
school district and Mann, maintaining it was her First Amendment right
to wear what she wanted, express her political views and even start the

In a symbolic gesture, the suit, which also asks that the school erase
the suspension from a record, asks for only $1 in punitive damages.

The case went to trial in July 2002 before a Kanawha County jury and
Judge James Stucky.

The Controversy

On the morning of Oct. 23, 2001, Katie asked Mann if she could start an
anarchy club, so that like-minded or curious students could gather, have

reading and discussion groups and do community service.

She'd spent all weekend working on a Constitution and Manifesto for the
club. "This anarchist club will not tolerate hate or violence," says her

Manifesto. "It is our final goal to dispel myths about anarchism,
especially the belief that anarchy is chaos and destruction."

Forrest Mann didn't look at her literature before rendering his decision

that he would not permit such a club in his school. Katie asked him to
read the documents, and though he agreed to read them later he said that

he wouldn't change his mind.

             According to Katie, she demanded he tell her why, but Mann
             had to ask her several times to return to class.

             Following that meeting, Katie was sitting in third-period
             English class with a stack of her Anarchy Club flyers
sitting on her desk. One or two of the students asked to take a look,
and then returned the flyers to Katie.

Katie admits she is an anarchist, but says that while anarchism is often

associated with a violent overthrow of government, she is a pacifist.
She opposes all violence and advocates "a peaceful revolution." After
all, she says, anarchism is about freedom, and violence violates the
freedom of others.

At some point, Katie began scribbling her opinions in marker on her
T-shirts. She says she'd been wearing her T-shirts long before the day
of the terrorist attacks, although she added a few things after the

Being a pacifist, she opposed the attacks on Afghanistan. She was also
taken aback by the wave of "flag-waving;" students suddenly considering
themselves patriots, blindly advocating war without stopping to think.
At the same time, says Katie, the students ignored problems right there
at home, such as racism and homophobia.

Some of the shirts bore handwritten statements promoting peace or
condemning racism. Others were more controversial, such as one with the
phrase, "When I saw the dead and dying children in Afghanistan, I felt a

newly recovered sense of national security."
  Another showed a picture of an American flag turned up-side-down with
an anarchy symbol drawn through it. Other messages
mocked "flag-wavers," those who were swept by
patriotism following the September 11th attacks.

But Katie adamantly denies being anti-American "If I didn't love this
place, why would I want to change it?" she said.

Fellow student Jacob Reed read the back of Katie's T-shirt and allegedly

told her, "If you don't like this country, then f---ing leave."

Reed was sent to the principal's office by the teacher for cursing at
Katie and received detention.

Later in the day, Mann called Katie into his office and told her she
would no longer be allowed to wear such shirts. Mann also claimed Katie
had violated his prior orders by making the flyers available to other
students, and placed her on a three-day suspension.

When Katie got home that afternoon, she was angry over Mann's dismissal
and went online to contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

After a bit of looking around, Katie got in touch with two attorneys
doing occasional work with the ACLU of West Virginia. Roger Forman, who
at one time was the chairperson of the state ACLU, contacted the school
district's attorney. The attorney agreed that Katie should in fact be
able to wear her shirts and start her club. At a meeting with Katie, her

mother, Forrest Mann, and Roger Forman, the issue was discussed, and
things appeared to be settled.

But on Oct. 29, the day Katie returned to school, a Board of Education
meeting left the teenager in tears. At the suggestions of a classmate, a

member of the student government, Katie attended the meeting so she
could address the board about the recent events.

Katie waited almost three hours to speak. Some board members were
helpful, suggesting Katie start with a club outside of school and then
try again to have the school permit it.

The meeting ended, however, in a harsher tone. "This isn't something
funny or cute," said one member. "You're talking about overthrowing the
government!" Another

yelled that Katie is a traitor, and suggested that what she is doing is
"like you stood up and waved a Japanese flag on Pearl Harbor day."

The president of the school board added, "What the hell is wrong with a
kid like that?" Katie left in tears  and her mother says she came away
from the meeting appalled at the way her daughter was being treated.

The following day a news article about the meeting appeared in the local

newspaper quoting Mann as saying that the statements on Katie's shirts
included "I hope Afghanistan wins" and "America should burn." Mann says
he was misquoted, and denies making such statements. In addition, Mann
says that the statements he did make were based on what Reed told him
was on Katie's shirts. The reporter who wrote the article for the
Charleston Gazette, however, maintains that he quoted Mann correctly.

When Katie returned to school, she wore a shirt containing handwritten
phrases explaining her view of anarchism, inviting students to ask her
questions and also instructing others to call the ACLU if their rights
were being violated.

Approximately 20 students did ask Katie questions about her viewpoints.
But others showed their opposition, with one even spitting on her car.
Another group of furious students went to the school's ROTC instructor,
warning that they wanted to take Katie out back and give her "West
Virginia justice."

Another teacher said some students complained it was unfair to permit
Katie's shirts while denying them the right to don their support for the

Ku Klux Klan.

Mann once again forbade Katie from wearing her politically motivated

Fearing for her safety, Katie soon transferred schools.

The Plaintiff's Case

Jason Huber, representing Katie Sierra pro bono along with Roger Forman,

says this case comes down to one of our most fundamental constitutional

"Popular speech doesn't need constitutional protection," says Huber.
"Unpopular speech does."

Katie Sierra displayed her opinions in a peaceful way, they say. She was

yelled at, cursed at, and threatened  yet she remained willing to
answer questions and explain her position in a respectful and reasonable


Katie, though, was the one that was disciplined. In other words, say the

defense, Forrest Mann punished her for the other students' reaction 
not for her own actions. While her opinions may well have been upsetting

to some, Huber points out that "free speech" has never been subject to
majority rule.

Huber and Forman say the real cause of the "disruption" at Sissonville
High was none other than Forrest Mann himself. He could have taken the
chance, the attorneys say, to teach his students about tolerance and
constitutional rights.

Instead, the principal chose to set an example of narrow-mindedness. In
addition, they say, most of the hostility towards Katie Sierra was
caused by the newspaper article, in which Forrest Mann quoted Sierra's
shirts as saying she hoped America would lose the war, and "should
burn." The attorneys say that even accepting Mann's version that he was
merely repeating what a student had told him, the statement was
blatantly irresponsible, knowing the sensitive situation in his school.

The attorneys are asking that Sierra be allowed to wear her shirts,
start her club, and have the suspension taken off her record. They are
also asking for a single dollar in damages. "I don't care about money,"
says Katie. "I just didn't think it was right."

The Defendant's Case

This case, says the defense, is not about free speech. It is about the
legally protected right of each West Virginia student to a thorough and
efficient education. The principal has the responsibility to ensure that

education can proceed and that his students are safe.

The defense team contends that in addition to his professional
responsibility, Forrest Mann has the law on his side. The school's
student handbook states that, "The United States constitution, the West
Virginia constitution, and state and federal laws guarantee certain
rights to individual citizens. Students possess many of these same
rights. However, certain rights possessed by adult citizens do not
extend to students."

Applied to the right to free speech, this limitation means students
"have the right to display and wear buttons, armbands, flags, decals, or

other badges of symbolic speech or expression, provided this activity
does not interfere with the orderly process of the school or with the
rights of others."

In the case of Katie Sierra, says the defense, her "speech" clearly
interfered both with the orderly process of the school and with the
rights of others to a disruption-free education. The issue was discussed

in every class, whether Katie was in it or not, and tensions ran so high

that one could sense it "just walking down the hall." For Mann and his
staff, according to the defense, education was on the back burner  and
managing a crisis-situation became the focus.

Mann says that one of the most hurtful and damaging things the school
has had to deal with is statements Katie Sierra made to the media,
calling her fellow students "racists and homophobes who can't read."

In addition, students reeling after the terror attacks saw their
patriotism mocked and their values attacked. Obviously, says Mann, they
were angry. He and his staff worked hard at providing an outlet for the
emotions, just as they did after the terrorist attacks. Some of the kids

may have talked about giving Katie "West Virginia justice," but they
didn't. Instead, they went to talk with a teacher about it and he
defused the situation  which Mann says is a reflection on the good work

of his entire staff.

In one of many written statements by the students, Katie's classmate
Meggan Stutler wrote that Katie's actions "greatly saddened me and
brought tears to my eyes. I watched as a young lady was permitted to
walk down the hallways of Sissonville High School wearing a T-shirt that

spoke against American patriotism." Continued Stutler, "As upset as I
am, I would not be able to concentrate on my education while my country
and everything else that I love is being verbally torn apart." A
principal knows his school and its students better than anyone, says the

defense, and must have the discretion to act accordingly.

Mann says he has been particularly careful to encourage diversity and an

understanding of other cultures. He has initiated classes on topics such

as the Holocaust, and has spent large amounts setting up a computer
sister school program between Sissonville and a school in Mexico. Mann's

school may not be the most diverse, but he denies any problem with
prejudice or discrimination.

"I've got good kids," he says, "I've got very good kids."

Reminds me of when a sociologist was interviewing a southern farmer:
Why do you think the murder rate is higher in the south?
I guess more southerners need killin'.

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