LITTLEROCK, Calif. — When “A” student and teen-age model Samantha Gallardo wore her pro-life T-shirt to school in September, the last thing she expected was to be taken to the principal's office by security guards.
However, with the assistance of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law
Center, Gallardo, a 17-year-old senior at Littlerock High School, subsequently won her fight to express her pro-life views.
“I've always been against abortion,” Gallardo said, “but I didn't talk about it. In class, when people discussed the issue, I realized how many people were pro-choice. That's why I wanted to get a T-shirt made.”
In early September Gallardo, who is Catholic, had a bright green T-shirt made at her local mall that read “Abortion S---s.”
“When I wore it to school, two security guards — one male and one female — weren't sure what they should do. One of them asked, ‘Should we let her wear this?’”
Gallardo was brought to Vice Principal Raul Caranza. “He told me that I had violated the dress code because I had expressed a political opinion and he told me that I needed to change my shirt,” Gallardo recounted. Her mother, Jane, brought a new shirt to school for her daughter to wear.
“People wear whatever they want all the time no matter what is in the dress code,” said Samantha. “Other students wear Marilyn Manson T-shirts, shirts with the Playboy bunny logo and revealing tank tops without any school interference.”
Added Samantha, “On the political expression issue, I have a teacher with a sign that says ‘Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican’ in the classroom.”
When Samantha wore the shirt a second time, she was again brought to the vice principal. “Mr. Caranza was mad. He told me that I could not wear anything that was not approved by the principal,” said Samantha. She and her mother scheduled a meeting with the principal, Michael Dutton, the next morning.
According to both Jane and Samantha, Dutton said he could not allow Samantha to wear clothing with abortion-related messages. “He said he didn't want any conflicts in school,” said Samantha.
“I said I could understand if he had a problem with the word ‘s---s,’” said Jane. “He said, ‘No, that's not it.’”
Samantha asked if she could wear shirts with other messages, such as “Abortion is Homicide,” “I'm Pro-Life,” or “Abortion is Wrong,” for example.
Samantha and her mother say Dutton said No.
In the end, Samantha and her mother agreed that she would not wear her “Abortion S---s” shirt, and reached a compromise in which the principal agreed to let her wear a shirt that read “Choose Life” because it was ambiguous.
Said Samantha, “I felt like they were treating me as if I was a bad kid. I get good grades.”
Shortly thereafter, Samantha, who had read about a similar story in a daily Pro-life Infonet e-mail message, contacted the Thomas More Law Center. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based law center handles at no charge cases involving religious freedom, traditional values, and sanctity of human life issues.
Thomas More Law Center attorneys Edward L. White III and Kimberly A. Daniels sent a letter Nov. 15 to the Littlerock school superintendent and school board members, explaining Samantha's constitutional right to advance her pro-life views and requesting immediate written assurance that she would be permitted to wear her pro-life clothing.
“It is a fundamental constitutional principle that students do not lose their right to free speech just because they are in school,” said Richard Thompson, the law center's chief counsel.
After investigating the allegations, Bridget Cook, general counsel for the Antelope Valley Union High School District, wrote to the law center. In her letter, dated Dec. 15, Cook denied that Littlerock High School had prohibited Samantha from wearing clothing advancing her views on abortion.
Said the letter, “During a meeting with your client [Samantha], Littlerock High School Principal, Mr. Dutton, challenged Samantha to find a more appropriate way of expressing her views … Samantha was merely asked to find a way of expressing herself without using a word that, as displayed on her shirt, lends itself to vulgar and sexual interpretations.”
It concluded, “this letter is written assurance that Samantha may continue to wear her pro-life clothing at Littlerock High School provided it does not cause actual disruption to school operations or include libelous, slanderous, obscene or vulgar speech.”
Thomas More Law Center attorney White said the letter is a victory for the pro-life teen. “We are confident that the school will now support and protect Samantha's constitutional right to express her pro-life views, rather than deny her that right as was previously done,” he said.
While Jane Gallardo is pleased with the outcome and is “very proud” of her daughter's willingness to stand up for her beliefs, she added, “I'm very disappointed that the principal and the district would call us liars.”
Neither Superintendent Robert Girolamo nor attorney Bridget Cook returned telephone calls from the Register.
The case marks the fourth T-shirt victory for Thomas More. In November, the law center successfully represented 16-year-old Chelsea Barney from Malone, N.Y., and in 1999, it represented two female students at Traverse City West Senior High School in Michigan.
In all three cases, the girls had purchased “Abortion is Homicide” T-shirts from the American Life League organization Rock for Life.
Rock for Life director Bryan Kemper said the organization sold more than 15,000 such shirts during concerts last summer alone. Many of the shirts are accompanied with a letter from Thomas More Law Center explaining the right to wear the shirts and to distribute Rock for Life literature in public schools. Kemper said that Rock for Life plans to attach similar tags to the shirts themselves.
“We didn't come up with the sheet until schools started harassing students about the shirts,” said Kemper.
As for Samantha, her experience has only strengthened her pro-life resolve.
She has started making her own pro-life shirts by ironing on the letters at home, and several of her peers are now wearing them.
In addition, Samantha's senior project will focus on the issue of pro-life activism and involve the creation of a brochure for pregnant teens. She also hopes to perform “Burden of Choice,” a pro-life song that she and her sister Susan wrote, at Littlerock High School's talent show.
Tim Drake is executive editor of Catholic.net.