A Nebraska school district is forcing the way a three-year-old deaf boy signs his name, because it apparently violates their weapons policy. The little boy, preschooler Hunter Spanjer, signs his name by extending his index fingers, in what the Nebraska School district says resembles a gun.

While the school district has released a statement claiming that they “are working with the parents to come to the best solution [they] can for the child,” there is always a possibility of this heading through the Federal Court system.

Sign Language Is Speech Under the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….” Speech does not necessarily mean “speaking” but can include non-verbal communication. Therefore, Hunter’s hand symbols, and certainly sign language, are indeed a form of speech.

Freedom of Speech is not always guaranteed. The government can protect against certain unprotected types of speech. There are four types: something “obscene” (usually very sexually hardcore); speech that is directed to incite and is likely to produce imminent lawless action/illegal activity; fighting words intended to produce a immediate violent reaction in an ordinary person; and a true threat.

Is it reasonable to say that one could perceive a child saying his name via sign language as any of the above? Hunter doesn't aim his fingers at someone, and yell “bang, bang.”

Schools do, however, have the ability (and frankly the responsibility) to protect their children. Their weapons policies (and other such zero tolerance polices) are in place for appropriate and necessary means. However, is this Nebraska school going too far?

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