Family sues school for censoring student’s shirt
A seventh grader says he was punished for expressing traditional gender ideas
At a public meeting in April, 12-year-old Liam Morrison took the mic to address the governing body of his school district in Middleborough, Mass. He told the committee he was sent home from school because of his T-shirt.
“What did my shirt say?” he said. “Five simple words: ‘There are only two genders.’ Nothing harmful. Nothing threatening. Just a statement I believe to be a fact.”
Last June, Liam’s middle school hosted Pride spirit week. The school encouraged students to wear a positive message of acceptance and love, participate in a school cosplay event, and sport colors by grade to form a rainbow, according to a flyer with school news. The week was intended to promote “self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of LGBTQIA+ people as a social group.”
Liam wore the shirt he talked about months later in March of this year: A black shirt with white letters stating, “There are only two genders.” Before the end of his first-period gym class, he had been called to the acting principal’s office and asked to remove the shirt. When he declined, administrators told him if he didn’t he would have to leave school for the day. His dad came to pick him up.
“I expected at least maybe one or two people would come up to me and say they just didn’t agree,” Liam told WORLD. “I didn’t expect to be pulled out of class and then into the office.”
Alliance Defending Freedom and the Massachusetts Family Institute filed a federal lawsuit last week on behalf of Liam and his family against the town of Middleborough and school officials for forbidding him to wear the shirt. The suit claims that the school has adopted its own view of sexuality, gender, and identity that forbids speech with a different point of view.
“[Schools] are really indoctrinating kids with … their preferred orthodoxy, but they’re not allowing students like Liam to express a different viewpoint, and that’s a real problem,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom at ADF.
After the incident on March 21, Liam’s father, Christopher Morrison, emailed Carolyn Lyons, the superintendent of the district. According to the lawsuit, Morrison asked for help understanding why Liam had been told to take off his shirt or miss school since the dress code allows clothing with written messages.
“My son is now asking me why he is not allowed to express his own political statement when he sees others doing the same every day in their choice of clothes, pins, posters, and speech,” Morrison wrote in the email. The lawsuit contains pictures from inside the school of posters from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. A rainbow flag hangs over a door, bearing pro-LGBT messaging.
Lyons defended the school’s dress code and the administration’s decision. “The content of Liam’s shirt targeted students of a protected class; namely in the area of gender identity,” the email read.
In early May, Liam wore a new shirt to school that read, “There are censored genders.” According to the lawsuit, no one complained about Liam’s shirt, but he was called to the principal’s office as soon as he arrived at his first class. He took the shirt off on the way to the office. The principal told him that if she could trust him not to put the shirt back on, he could stay at school. Liam, an honor roll student, kept the shirt off so as not to miss another day.
The lawsuit states that the school’s policies are inconsistent with the leadership’s pro-LGBTQ stance. “The school’s own student handbook actually says that all aspects of public education should be available to members of both sexes,” Langhofer said. “It defines sexual harassment to include anything derogatory to either gender. So the school’s own handbook … talks about a sex binary.”
The case centers on how officials approach First Amendment rights once children enter a public school building. Langhofer said that it often takes just one or two complaints from one side for schools to shut down dissenting opinions. “If somebody like Liam can be censored from just peacefully expressing his viewpoint in response to a school’s expression of their viewpoint, then the First Amendment really means nothing for students when they’re in school,” Langhofer said.
Video of Liam speaking to the school committee circulated on the internet. “I have been told that my shirt was targeting a protected class,” he said in the meeting. “Who is this protected class? Are their feelings more important than my rights? I don’t complain when I see ‘pride flags’ and ‘diversity posters’ hung throughout the school. Do you know why? Because others have a right to their beliefs just as I do.”
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