Douglass v. Londonderry School et al.

372 F. Supp. 2d 203 (D.N.H. 2005)

When school officials and the yearbook editorial staff at Londonderry High School told Blake Douglass that he couldn’t use a picture of himself wearing trapshooting gear and holding a shotgun in the yearbook, his family sued the school. Administrators and the editorial board (which is composed of students) voted to move the photograph from the senior portrait section to the community sports section and asked him to submit an alternative photograph for the portrait. The principal said the portrait did not reflect the values of the entire community and could be portrayed as politically charged. Douglass countered that it was only meant to reflect his hobby. The principal said if Douglass hadn’t included a gun in the photograph, he probably would have included it in the portrait section of the yearbook.

In response to Douglass’ motion for a preliminary injunction, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire decided the school officials had not breached his First Amendment rights. Only the government can violate the First Amendment, not private individuals. The court decided it was the student editorial board who had voted not to use the picture, albeit at the request of the principal.

As Douglass and his parents were arguing with administrators, the school created a new policy forbidding props or political speech in yearbook photographs. The family argued that the policy was meant to silence Douglass. The court found that the policy was legal and not targeted at specific viewpoints, as the two other students with props in their yearbook photographs were also asked to submit new pictures.

Read the decision.