Students who appeared to be making gestures associated with white supremacy in a prom picture walk unscathed after Wisconsin school officials said First Amendment concerns prevent them from punishing the teens. Among other protections, the First Amendment safeguards against government restrictions on free speech.
A group of white male students who stood outside the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo, Wisconsin, for a prom photo in May, went viral earlier this month and sparked outrage online. The image of about 60 boys drew controversy after they appeared to be giving Nazi salutes.
Peter Gust, the photographer who captured the image, said it was completely “taken out of context” and was “innocent.” He claimed to have told the students to “wave goodbye” before going to prom. However, other students came forward and blamed the photographer for placing them in an uncomfortable situation.
On Wednesday November 21, Baraboo School District Administrator Lori Mueller sent out a letter to inform those of the school’s finished investigation, the State Journal reported. The 10-day investigation concluded that there were still “some key details” left unclear.
Mueller wrote, “As previously stated, we cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved. … Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”
School officials said they will continue to investigate the events that led up to the students seemingly giving the Nazi salute. Nevertheless, they’re focused on “restorative practices” within the Baraboo community.
“We must come together and, in a meaningful way, consider the travesties of the past that were fueled by hatred and embrace the celebration of diversity fueled by love and acceptance,” Mueller wrote in the letter.
As of the 2010 Census, Baraboo was 94 percent white.