A Woodlawn High School student is pitting the First Amendment against the school's dress code in an effort to obtain a federal court's permission to wear a graphic anti-abortion T-shirt to school.
Jeffrey M. Baus, 17, testified yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that he should have a constitutional right to wear the T-shirt, which displays a drawing of a dismembered and bloody fetus.
"It's part of my right to free speech," he said, "and I would like for people at my school to realize what abortion really is. It's murder, and it must be stopped."
But Louis J. Sergi, who as Woodlawn High's principal had banned the shirt last year, testified that the First Amendment right to free speech had not been an issue in his decision. He said the graphic image violated the school's dress code and might have caused disruptions.
The non-jury trial, before District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, results from a lawsuit filed in August by Jeffrey Baus and his brother, Gregory Alan Baus, 19, who was forced to leave the school when he refused to remove the same T-shirt in May 1991.
Gregory Baus graduated from Woodlawn two weeks after the incident but remains a plaintiff in the suit, which seeks permission for his brother to wear the T-shirt in the coming school year.
Named as defendants are Mr. Sergi, an assistant principal and the school board.
The brothers claim the school violated their free speech rights xTC and unlawfully detained Gregory Baus in May 1991, when officials ordered him to take off the shirt. He refused and was driven home by Mr. Sergi.
Lawyers at the Rutherford Institute, which specializes in First Amendment issues relating to religious expression, filed the suit seeking $30,000 on behalf of the brothers and their parents.
At issue is a hand-drawn picture on the T-shirt that shows a fetus in seven pieces, blood dripping from each one. The image is accompanied by the words: "Kinda' looks like murder doesn't it? It is murder, and it is legal. It's abortion."
Jeffrey Baus testified that the picture portrayed a 10-week-old fetus. He also said that he drew considerable attention two months ago when he again wore it to Woodlawn High, but that no action was taken against him.
Mr. Sergi, who now is the principal at Towson High, said he had not intended to restrict free speech when he banned the shirt. He said that in 1990 the school imposed a dress code barring depictions of violence.