The First Amendment continues to prove confounding for those running public high schools in New Jersey – from Wall High School to Princeton High School, and now Morristown High School, where the administration removed an art piece depicting President Trump as a pig holding an angry cat.
The satirical artwork was created by Morristown High School junior Liam Shea for the annual MHS Art & Design Show. Shea’s other art piece – depicting Trump on a missile, taking a selfie – was also removed. The theme of the show was “America Takes a Selfie.”
Shea told MorristownGreen.com that MHS Principal Mark Manning “was very respectful. First he said, ‘I appreciate the risk you took, and it’s very well done … but other people weren’t too happy with this.’”
Though his artwork was removed, Shea, an aspiring video game designer, welcomes the publicity the controversy has caused.
“Me, I think it’s great,” Shea told MorristownGreen.com. “If it wasn’t taken down, I wouldn’t be talking to you!”
On the other hand, Shea’s mother, Kelly Shea, is disappointed the school caved to complaints.
“Whatever happened to freedom of expression? Isn’t this what art is about?” she wrote in a Facebook post.
She later posted, “[Liam] holds no ill will over the decision and has the utmost respect for the principal and all his teachers at MHS. He has no intention of demanding it be returned to the display or causing any trouble for the school.”
Liam’s artwork will still be seen in the Tricorn, MHS’s award-winning literary magazine.
The support for Liam’s artwork was evident as strangers filled Kelly’s Facebook posts with requests for prints and T-shirts. Due to the demand, the print is now available on Redbubble, where people can order it on a T-shirt, phone case and other items.
Federal courts have given schools significant, but not unlimited, authority to govern the display of student expression in hallways. The walls of a school building are not regarded as a “public forums” for unrestricted expressive use, but any school regulation must pass the test of educational reasonableness and, importantly, must not discriminate based on viewpoint. Pulling down artwork because it provokes complaints from others – particularly where the artwork involves political speech, an especially protected category of expression – is on uncertain constitutional ground.