The Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) announced Tuesday the public policy organization sent a demand letter to the superintendent of Middleborough Public Schools on behalf of a 12-year-old student who was allegedly punished for wearing a shirt that said, “There are only two genders.”
Liam Morrison defended his First Amendment rights to his school committee on April 13, several weeks after he was reportedly taken out of gym class at Nichols Middle School and informed by school staff that complaints had been made about the shirt he was wearing that said, “There are only two genders.”
School personnel allegedly told Liam his shirt was causing others to feel “unsafe.”
MFI sent a demand letter to the Middleborough school district superintendent for violating the free speech rights of a 12-year-old student by punishing him for wearing a shirt that said, "There are only two genders."https://t.co/eXn1tCrwTQ pic.twitter.com/y8RXbX3vsP
— MA Family Institute (@MAFamilyInst) May 1, 2023
According to MFI’s demand letter, written by staff attorney Samuel J. Whiting to Superintendent Carolyn Lyons, Acting Principal Heather Tucker removed Liam from his class. Tucker and a school counselor told Liam his shirt was inappropriate because it upset other students.
The letter indicated that Liam’s father “inquired about the school’s justification for removing Liam from class and demanding that he change shirts.”
“You replied that Liam’s shirt violated the school’s dress code, specifically citing the provision which states, ‘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,’” Whiting observed.
“You stated that ‘several’ students and staff complained about the shirt but did not cite a particular number,” the letter continued. “You also did not give any examples of disruptions or potential disruptions that the shirt had caused or was likely to cause.”
In sum, on the basis of a few complaints by unnamed students and staff, NMS censored Liam’s expression of political speech on a topic of ongoing public debate. In doing so, it is clear that NMS violated Liam’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
When Liam addressed the school committee, he said that while the staff told him he was not “in trouble,” “it sure felt like I was.”
He described how he was asked to remove his shirt to be able to return to class.
“When I nicely told them that I didn’t want to do that, they called my father,” he said. “Thankfully, my dad supported my decision and came to pick me up.”
“I have been told that my shirt was targeting a protected class,” Liam continued. “Who is this protected class? Are their feelings more important than my rights?”
Liam then schooled the committee on the facts surrounding First Amendment 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. No one person, staff, or student told me that they were bothered by what I was wearing. Actually, just the opposite. Several kids told me that they supported my actions.
“It should be clear that the ‘hate speech’ provision of NMS’s dress code is … facially unconstitutional and would be struck down if challenged in federal court,” Whiting concluded in the demand letter to Lyons. “By allowing speech that supports gender identity ideology, but forbidding speech that opposes it, NMS is unconstitutionally ‘picking and choosing’ speech that it favors and disfavors.”
“Liam is planning to wear the shirt to school again this Friday, and if the administration stops him, MFI will assist with any necessary legal action,” Whiting wrote.
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