Jeremy Gebhart, 16, says his First Amendment rights were violated when a yearbook photo of him wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat was edited to blur out the MAGA logo.
Gebhart’s mother, Lorraine, says her son likes to wear the hat to show support for President Trump and the current administration. She wrote in a Facebook post that she believes someone wanted to express a political opinion by photoshopping the image and that by doing so, “took away” her son’s “freedom of speech and expression.”
The superintendent of Gebhart’s school has apologized and that an investigation was opened. We reached out to Lorraine Gebhart on Facebook and asked if the family planned to ask for more than an apology. She replied that no further action was planned. “I feel like we’ve made our position well-known and I’m satisfied and plan no further comment.”
This occurred in Littlestown, Pennsylvania, a small town in the southern portion of the state located near the border with Maryland.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Jeremy Gebhart Says He Was Shocked to Open His Yearbook & See the MAGA Logo Photoshopped Out of the Picture
Jeremy Gebhart says that he and his friend wore their “Make America Great Again” hats during Littlestown High School’s “Spirit Week” back in October of 2018. He told Fox affiliate WPMT-TV that he believes President Trump is working to help the country and that he wanted to show his support.
The photo of the two friends ended up in the yearbook, but with a noticeable difference. Gebhart said he was surprised to see that the image had been photoshopped. It now looks as if he and his friend were wearing plain red hats. The MAGA logo has been cropped out.
Gebhart says he felt that the edited photo violated his freedom of speech. “Everybody has First Amendment rights… they are allowed to think what they want and say what they want but they aren’t allowed to take that away from other people.”
2. Jeremy Gebhart’s Mother Believes Someone Cropped the MAGA Logo Out of the Image In Order to Make a Political Statement
Jeremy Gebhart’s mother, Lorraine Gebhart, shared her own frustration about the incident with WPMT-TV and on social media. She told the TV station that her son has every right to wear the “Make America Great Again” hat and show support for President Trump.
She explained in a Facebook page that she believes someone wanted to make a political statement by including the picture and choosing to edit it. She wrote, “Anyone who knows or remembers anything about yearbooks knows they take tons of pictures. No one had to use this particular picture if it was considered controversial, they could have just left it out. Clearly by using it and blurring the Trump emblem, someone was making a statement and expressing their opinion. Unfortunately, by doing so, they took away my son’s freedom of speech and expression.”
Ms. Gebhart added in a follow-up post, “We can love our president, hate him, agree or disagree with him, campaign for or against him, but we all get to express our own personal beliefs in a peaceful and respectful manner.”
3. Littlestown Superintendent: ‘It is Not the Policy or Practice of the District to Improperly Censor Speech’
Lorraine Gebhart shared on Facebook that she met with the Littlestown Superintendent, Chris Bigger. She says she asked him for a public apology for her son and the other boy in the picture. She told Heavy that the family is not planning any further action.
The school district is investigating how the cropped photo ended up being approved. Bigger released a statement to WPMT-TV that reads, “The mistake was not noticed during the editorial preview process prior to print. We apologize on behalf of the yearbook club. It is not the policy or practice of the district to improperly censor speech.”
4. Freedom of Speech is Protected at Public Schools, Though Districts May Prohibit Lewd or Disruptive Speech
Students at public schools have the right to express their opinions, even if their viewpoints differ from that of their teachers. The Freedom Forum Institute, a public charity based in Washington, D.C. committed to education about the First Amendment, explains on its website that students at public school have greater freedom of expression that students at private schools. “Public school officials act as part of the government and are called state actors. As such, they must act according to the principles in the Bill of Rights. Private schools, however, aren’t arms of the government. Therefore, the First Amendment does not provide protection for students at private schools.” Jeremy Gebhart’s school in Littlestown is a public institution.
The organization adds that the First Amendment would not protect a student who is disrupting the class or making lewd statements. The National Coalition Against Censorship, a non-profit organization, further clarifies that speech within a public school is not as free as in, for example, a public park. “Within the educational setting, the right to free speech is implemented in ways that do not interfere with schools’ educational mission. Students cannot claim, for instance, that they have the right to have incorrect answers to an algebra quiz accepted as correct, nor can teachers claim a right to teach anything they choose.”
5. Jeremy Gebhart’s Case Is Not the First Instance in Which a Student Felt Targeted For Supporting President Trump
Jeremy Gebhart’s yearbook photo is another recent example of students feeling targeted based on their support for President Trump.
Earlier this year, a high school student from Holmdel, New Jersey, Boris Kizenko, claimed that he was denied entry into the National Honor Society for his support of the administration. Kizenko’s school has denied that political preferences play any role in deciding which students are accepted into the organization. In March of 2019, Kizenko received an invitation from the White House to attend a speech in the Rose Garden about higher education.
Also in March, Florida student Gunnar Johansson said a bus assistant yelled at him to remove his MAGA hat. When he refused, he says she ripped it from his head.
A group of students at Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, says they wore “Make America Great Again” attire for events during their school’s Spirit Week. School administrators reportedly told the students to remove the MAGA gear. The principal, Dan Serrano, explained in a statement to Fox10 that students would not have faced punishment for expressing political opinions. He stated that the students who were reprimanded that day were punished for creating a “safety concern.”