Anti-abortion T-shirt sparks free-speech suit Woodlawn senior booted over clothing

August 11, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

The removal of a student from school for wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt has prompted a federal lawsuit accusing the Baltimore County school system of violating the student's right of free speech.

The suit, filed Friday in Baltimore's U.S. District Court, accuses two Woodlawn High School administrators of false imprisonment and forcible removal of 18-year-old senior Gregory A. Baus in dTC May "solely on the basis of certain political and religious views espoused" by the shirt.

Mr. Baus, who has since graduated, was joined by his 16-year-old brother, Jeffrey, who is entering his junior year at Woodlawn, as plaintiffs in the suit filed on their behalf by the

Rutherford Institute, an organization that specializes in First Amendment rights relating to religion.

The action seeks a court order assuring the right of Jeffrey to wear the anti-abortion shirt to school in the future and $30,000 in damages.

Since the issue arose May 17 -- the first of two occasions when Mr. Baus was removed from school and driven home by Principal Louis J. Sergi -- county schools attorney Lee Stuart Thomson has told Rutherford Institute lawyer David Noonan that there will be no objection to the Baus T-shirt in the future.

Mr. Noonan said the suit was filed anyway because the county has not answered a demand for monetary compensation for Mr. Baus' removal from school and denial of freedom of speech -- a matter that Mr. Thomson said he had placed in the hands of the school system's insurance adjuster.

The shirt that stirred up all the fuss was decorated by Mr. Baus with a drawing depicting in black and red a dismembered 10-week-old fetus and the caption: "Kinda' looks like murder doesn't it? It is murder, and it is legal. It's abortion."

"It follows with the rest of my philosophical thinking," said Mr. Baus. "Objectively, from a scientific point of view, medically, it's been documented for over two decades that pre-born humans are in fact human and living beings, and I just feel that life is worth protecting.

"I feel that it's encompassed in the Constitution's Bill of Rights when it says, 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' -- I feel that's included in the statement 'life.' "

Mr. Baus, describing himself as an evangelical protestant, said that while he does not belong to any activist group, "I regularly picket abortion clinics." He said his mother works for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion organization.

"My parents are both supporters of pro-life views," said Mr. Baus, who also has an older sister and an 11-year-old brother attending a private Christian school. "I, myself, made an intellectual, conscious decision to support that sort of activity and these views."

Mr. Baus said he had worn the T-shirt to school frequently. It sparked occasional discussion, he said, but administrators appeared to take no notice until May 17 when he solicited an opinion from Assistant Principal P. Delores Mbah at the suggestion of his teacher in a "family living" class.

"She kind of looked at it for a second and said, 'Take it off,' expecting me to comply . . . . Then when I expressed to her I wasn't going to take it off, I posed this question. I said, 'Well what if I want to protest taking off the shirt,' and she informed me, 'I'll protest your butt right out of here.' "

Mr. Baus said he was escorted to the gym, where a teacher was told to give him another shirt. Then he was ordered into a room by Ms. Mbah, who told him to change and shut the door, he said.

"I knelt down on the floor and I was praying until they came back in some time later, and she asked me what I was doing," Mr. Baus said. "I think I implied I was waiting for her to realize I wasn't going to change my shirt."

Mr. Baus said he was driven home about noon by the principal, Mr. Sergi, and told not to return to school until he had changed.

Several days later, Mr. Baus said, he again wore the shirt to school and was taken out of his first morning class and driven home by Mr. Sergi, who is named as a defendant in the suit along with Ms. Mbah and the county school board.

Mr. Thomson, an assistant county attorney assigned to the school board, acknowledged telling Mr. Noonan that the Baus shirt would not be banned again but declined to discuss the case further, explaining that he has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

The county school superintendent, Robert Y. Dubel, said yesterday that the school system policy is to ban only shirts deemed obscene or libelous, "and principals are given the discretion to interpret that policy."

Dr. Dubel said he was unaware of the confrontation at Woodlawn until after it had occurred, and has advised Mr. Thomson that "I thought this T-shirt was legally permissible to wear."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.