This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
A student at a California middle school has been suspended for wearing glare-reducing "eye black" at a football game, mimicking the actions of professional, college, and high school students alike.
And now the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is calling for the punishment to be rescinded.
"Muirlands Middle School has no authority to discipline J.A. for his non-disruptive, constitutionally protected display of team spirit," the free speech organization officials have told the school in a letter.
They ask school officials to remove any mention of the incident from J.A.'s school record and lift a ban on the student's attendance at sports events.
Further, the school needs to renew its commitment to "binding First Amendment obligations."
"Anyone who spends any amount of time watching sports will see players wearing eye black — black paint or grease applied under the eyes. Traditionally, athletes use eye black to mitigate glare from the sun or stadium lights, but it also has aesthetic appeal," FIRE explained in a report.
"As one sports analyst put it back in 2008, 'The real reason everyone loves to wear eye black is that it looks totally cool, like modern war paint.' Some athletes go with the classic two black lines under the eyes. But for many others, the more eye black, the better."
J.A., in fact, used eye black that was under his eyes and spread down his cheeks, copying professional players whose images were documented by FIRE.
J.A. was at the game, wearing the eye black, without incident.
"However, about a week after the game, the Muirlands Middle School principal called J.A. and his parents to a meeting, where he told them J.A. would be suspended for two days and banned from future athletic events for wearing 'blackface' at the football game. The disciplinary notice describes J.A.’s alleged offense as 'painted his face black at a football game' and categorizes the incident as 'Offensive comment, intent to harm.'"
That, FIRE's report said, "is preposterous."
"Merriam-Webster defines 'blackface' as “dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a black person and especially to mock or ridicule black people.' Blackface has its origins in racist minstrel shows featuring white actors caricaturing black people, including by covering their entire faces in dark makeup and stereotypically exaggerating their facial features," FIRE explained.
J.A., instead, was following "a popular warpaint-inspired trend of athletes applying large amounts of eye black under their eyes, which has no racial connotations whatsoever," FIRE told the school.
The organization documented that the Supreme Court already has concluded that "school officials cannot restrict student speech based on speculative, 'undifferentiated fear' that it will cause disruption or feelings of unpleasantness or discomfort among the student body."
FIRE is calling for a response from the school no later than Nov. 22.