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Appeals court to rule on free-speech case for boy wearing “two genders” T-shirt

Liam Morrison wearing a censored version of the controversial t-shirt Alliance Defending Freedom

Appeals court to rule on free-speech case for boy wearing “two genders” T-shirt

The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston heard the case of 13-year-old Liam Morrison, who school officials accused of propagating hate speech by wearing a shirt reading “There are only two genders.” School administrators believed the shirt violated the hate speech clause of the student dress code and gave Morrison the option to remove the shirt or be sent home. Morrison went home. Morrison later wore the shirt again, but placed duct tape with the word “censored” over the words “only two,” so the shirt resd, “There are [censored] genders.” Morrison was once again sent home after refusing to change shirts.

The middle schooler’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that it violated Liam’s Constitutional right to free speech. U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in June refused to grant a temporary injunction to allow Morrison to wear his shirt, alleging that it harmed transgender students “because it would prevent them from attending school without harassment.” The federal appeals court is now considering the case.

David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Morrison and insists that students do not lose their right to free speech at school. “This case isn’t about T-shirts,” Cortman asserts, “It’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own.”

How did the appeals court respond? The three-judge panel consisted of Chief Appellate Judge David J. Barron, and appellate judges Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson and Lara E. Montecalvo. Each was nominated to the court by the Biden or Obama administrations. The panel made statements indicating that appeared skeptical of the middle schooler’s case. Judge Montecalvo compared a T-shirt to a political pamphlet, pointing out that an offended student can easily discard a pamphlet, but that, “a T-shirt…is worn all day. You have to look at it, you have to read it.” Chief Judge Barron also noted that once the story hit the news, the school received threats and protests erupted. “That's all traced back to the shirt,” he alleged. “Had that not happened, none of it would have happened.”

Dig deeper: Listen to Nick Eicher and Myrna Brown’s report on Liam’s case and law protecting kids from transgender medical procedures on The World and Everything In It.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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