Student can wear anti-abortion T-shirt

August 20, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A Woodlawn High School senior has won permission to wear %% an anti-abortion T-shirt to school, under an out-of-court settlement with the Baltimore County school system. %%

%% Jeffrey M. Baus, 17, and his brother, Gregory A. Baus, 19, had sued in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for the right to wear a hand-drawn shirt depicting a 10-week-old fetus in bloody pieces.

Woodlawn High and county school officials had contended during a non-jury trial last month that the shirt violated dress code provisions barring displays of violence.

But the Baus brothers contended that the ban violated their right of free speech. Neither the brothers nor their attorneys could be reached for comment yesterday.

Leslie R. Stellman, the school system's lawyer, said yesterday that the settlement reached last Friday calls for the brothers to drop the lawsuit and their claim for $30,000 in damages for alleged violations of their First Amendment rights.

County School Superintendent Stuart D. Berger said yesterday that the county no longer considers the shirt image to be violent.

"It's a close call," Mr. Berger said. "We looked at that shirt and saw that it wasn't displaying violence because of its religious and political nature. But I think the key is that we wanted to make sure we kept the dress code in place."

However, he acknowledged that officials changed their position on the shirt after becoming concerned they would lose the court case, which was being heard by Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

"In all candor, the countenance of the judge influenced us," Mr. Berger said. "He was having questions about whether we were right."

Gregory Baus had been a senior at Woodlawn in May 1991 when he wore the shirt to school and was sent home by the principal for refusing to remove it. He graduated from Woodlawn two weeks later.

The lawsuit sought permission for his younger brother to wear the shirt in school. The shirt shows a fetus cut into seven parts, 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."

Woodlawn's dress code was drafted in 1990 to bar depictions of violence after white students complained about a T-shirt with a picture of Malcolm X, a gun and the phrase, "By any means necessary."

Mr. Berger said he was concerned that black students at the racially mixed school might believe there is a double standard because the Malcolm X shirt was banned and the abortion shirt now is allowed.

"What they'll have to understand is that there's a difference," he said.

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