Court Upholds School’s Ban of ‘Only Two Genders’ T-Shirt

Court Upholds School’s Ban of ‘Only Two Genders’ T-Shirt

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on June 9 affirmed a Massachusetts middle school’s decision to forbid a student from wearing two T-shirts to school that say, “There are only two genders” and “There are [censored] genders.”

In May 2023, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts on behalf of seventh-grader Liam Morrison, in which they asked the court to halt Nichols Middle School’s ban on his shirts and allow him to express his opinions as freely as the other students through the course of the lawsuit. The court denied that request. On Aug. 4, ADF attorneys filed a notice of appeal, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit rule in favor of Morrison’s free speech rights.

David Cortman, ADF’s senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation, said the law firm is exploring options for further appeals.

“Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building,” Cortman said in a press release. “This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own. The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events, and it encourages students to wear clothing with messages on the same topic—so long as that clothing expresses the school’s preferred views on the subject. Our legal system is built on the truth that the government cannot silence any speaker just because it disapproves of what they say. The 1st Circuit erred in its decision denying L.M. his right to free speech.”

In an opinion piece written by Morrison and published by Fox News in February, the middle schooler recounted being removed from his first period class by the school principal and ordered to change his shirt before returning to class.

School officials said they were enforcing the school’s dress code, which prohibits clothing that states, implies or depicts “hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation or any other classification,” as well as any clothing which school administration “determines to be unacceptable to our community standards.”

“There is a lot of talk about sex and gender at my school,” Morrison wrote in the Op-ed. “The administration, teachers, and other students all talk about it. They put up pride flags and posters. The main idea the school promotes is that feelings, not biology, are what make someone a “boy” or “girl.” They also say there are an unlimited number of possible “gender identities,” and that whole idea can’t be questioned.”

Nichols Middle School openly promotes and supports LGBTQ ideology, even observing Pride Month and a “Pride Day.” The school has had a student-led Gay Straight Alliance Club since 2018.

“I spoke at a school committee meeting a couple of weeks after wearing the first shirt,” Morrison wrote in his Fox News piece. “I asked how a shirt could make someone feel ‘unsafe.’ I asked what made a chance of hurt feelings more important than anyone’s right to share their point of view. If that’s the rule, then anyone could silence anyone else just by saying, ‘I’m offended.’ I don’t want that to be the rule. I see lots of messages at school that I don’t agree with. But I don’t try to silence others. We should all have a right to share our opinions.”

Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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