The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a “notice of appeal” after a federal district court in Massachusetts ruled that a middle school in Middleborough, Massachusetts, has the right to prohibit a student from wearing a “There are only two genders” T-shirt to school.
“We look forward to showing the court how this isn’t just about a T-shirt,” Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Logan Spena told The Daily Signal of its Aug. 4 appeal. “This is about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from the school’s radical gender-identity ideology.”
By appealing the district court’s initial ruling, ADF hopes to prohibit Nichols Middle School from denying Liam Morrison, 12, who will be an eighth grader this fall, his right to wear a shirt that expresses his beliefs.
While the middle school promotes and lets their students wear attire that promotes Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ groups, and others, it would not let Morrison wear a shirt that says “There are only two genders” or “There are *censored* genders” to school.
“Public school officials can’t force Liam to remove a shirt that states his position when the school lets every other student wear clothing that speaks on the same issue,” Spena said.
Currently, the middle school has a speech policy, according to the complaint, that says “clothing must not state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”
The school’s dress code policy adds that “other apparel that the administration determines to be unacceptable to our community standards will not be allowed.”
When ADF attorneys asked for clarification, schools Superintendent Carolyn Lyons reaffirmed the school’s policy and said that it “has, and will continue to, prohibit the wearing of a T-shirt by [Morrison] or anyone else which is likely to be considered discriminatory, harassing and/or bullying to others, including those who are gender nonconforming by suggesting that their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression does not exist or is invalid,” the legal group’s complaint says.
As a result, “the schools’ speech policy unconstitutionally censors certain student expressions merely because school officials deem a student’s expression ‘offensive’ to others,” while also giving the school “unbridled, overbroad discretion to choose what is acceptable for student expression,” Spena explained.
When the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears Morrison’s case, it will have the opportunity to uphold the First Amendment of the Constitution and follow Supreme Court precedents by correcting the district court’s decision, which disregarded both, the ADF says.
“Our Constitution protects the right of all Americans, including students, to speak messages that are consistent with what they believe,” Spena told The Daily Signal. “Students don’t forfeit their free speech when they walk into the school building.”
But that’s exactly what happened to Morrison when he wore a shirt that said “There are only two genders” to school. Morrison was brought to the principal’s office and told to take off the shirt or go home. He chose to go home, but a few days later wore a shirt that said “There are *censored* genders.”
Morrison was again sent to the principal’s office, but rather than miss another day of class, he changed his shirt.
The school claimed students had said the shirt made them feel uncomfortable, the complaint says, adding that no one cared whether Morrison felt uncomfortable with the transgender and LGBTQ signs throughout the school that contradicted his beliefs.
“If the court of appeals corrects the district court’s ruling, and we believe that it will,” Spena said, then Morrison will be allowed to wear his “There are only two genders” shirt to school as the case progresses.
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