In a recent incident at Nichols Middle School in Massachusetts, a student was forced to remove his t-shirt bearing the phrase “There are only two genders.” The school’s administration now faces a lawsuit, as the student’s family claims the discipline infringed on his First Amendment rights.
In early March, seventh-grader Liam Morrison was taken out of his gym class and asked to change his shirt, reportedly due to complaints from other students who claimed they felt unsafe. The staff told him his shirt was “targeting a protected class.”
Despite the warning, Morrison refused to change his shirt, prompting the school to call his father to take him home. In April, Morrison later revealed this incident during a Middleborough Public Schools board meeting, expressing his view that the school district should better uphold students’ First Amendment rights. He stated, “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.”
Middle Schooler Made to Remove Shirt that Said ‘There Are Only Two Genders’ Sues School https://t.co/CbYVaCah3J
— Faith 🇺🇸 (@TakeCourageISA) May 16, 2023
In early May, Morrison wore a modified version of his shirt, which now read, “There are ‘censored’ genders.” However, he was once again told to remove his shirt, this time even before the first bell rang.
The Massachusetts Family Institute, representing Morrison, is preparing to file a lawsuit against the school. Sam Whiting, an attorney for the Institute, expects the lawsuit to be filed soon. “We believe that we’re going to get a win on this. I mean, I really can’t think of a better fact pattern to vindicate a student’s First Amendment rights,” Whiting said.
Excellent. He knocked it out of the park! https://t.co/6quTAffWuk
— The Honey Badger (@Nance726) May 14, 2023
The school’s lawyers stated that the shirt was likely to be considered discriminatory and harassing towards others, particularly those who identify as gender nonconforming. However, Morrison emphasized that his shirt was not directed toward anyone. He said, “I’m just voicing my opinion about a statement that I believe to be true. And I feel like some people may think that I’m imposing hate speech, even though it’s not directed towards anyone.”
Morrison has found support among his classmates. “Everyone in my homeroom and everyone in my gym class had supported what I had done,” he said. Morrison also used his situation to encourage others to stand up for their beliefs. He said, “Always fight for what you believe in and, well, never let anyone stop you from believing really.”
The case has sparked a debate about freedom of speech in schools and the extent to which it can be curtailed. The school’s decision appears to have been made to protect certain students, but at the cost of infringing on the rights of others. The question that arises, then, is whether schools can balance these conflicting rights without suppressing the voices of their students.