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Boroff v. Van Wert City Bd. of Educ. - 220 F.3d 465 (6th Cir. 2000)


Where another provision of the federal Constitution provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection, a court must assess a plaintiff's claims under that explicit provision and not the more generalized notion of "substantive due process."


On Aug. 29, 1997, plaintiff Nicholas Boroff, a senior at a public school operated by defendant Van Wert City Board of Education ("Board"), went to school wearing a "Marilyn Manson" T-shirt. The front of the T-shirt depicted a three-faced Jesus, accompanied by the words, "See No Truth. Hear No Truth. Speak No Truth." On the back of the shirt, the word "BELIEVE" was spelled out in capital letters, with the letters "LIE" highlighted. At the time, the school had in effect a "Dress and Grooming" policy that provided that clothing with offensive illustrations, drug, alcohol, or tobacco slogans were not acceptable. Defendant Chief Principal's Aide David Froelich told Boroff that his shirt was offensive and gave him the choice of turning the shirt inside-out, going home and changing, or leaving and being considered truant. Boroff left school. The following day, Boroff wore another Marilyn Manson T-shirt to school. Boroff and his mother met that day with Froelich, Defendant Principal William Clifton, and defendant Superintendent John Basinger. Basinger told the Boroffs that students would not be permitted to wear Marilyn Manson T-shirts on school grounds. Undaunted, Boroff wore different Marilyn Manson T-shirts on each of the next three school days. Each day, Boroff was told that he would not be permitted to attend school while wearing the T-shirts. Boroff did not attend school for the next four days, and thereafter, Boroff’s mother filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that defendants' refusal to allow her son to wear Marilyn Manson T-shirts in school violated his First Amendment right to free expression and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Boroff requested a temporary restraining order and moved for a preliminary injunction, which were both denied by the district court. Thereafter, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants. Boroff appealed.


By subjecting Boroff to disciplinary actions because of his act of wearing 'Marilyn Manson" T-shirt to schools, did the school officials violate Borofff's First Amendment right to free expression and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process?




According to the evidence presented, the court of appeals held that the school did not intend to suppress the expression of Boroff's viewpoint, because of its religious implications. Rather, the record demonstrated that the school prohibited Boroff's Marilyn Manson T-shirts generally because the particular rock group promoted disruptive and demoralizing values which were inconsistent with and counter-productive to education. Hence, the school did not violate Boroff’s First Amendment right to free expression. As to Boroff's Fourteenth Amendment claims, the court held that Boroff would have no cognizable substantive due process claim under the law. As such, the court held that the district court was correct in finding that defendants did not act in a manifestly unreasonable manner in prohibiting the Marilyn Manson T-shirts pursuant to its dress code because the shirts contained symbols and words that promoted values that were so patently contrary to the school's educational mission, that defendants had the authority, under the circumstances, to prohibit those T-shirts.

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