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Free speech advocates support MA boy wearing 'There are only two genders' shirt

Sixteen states, numerous groups file friend-of-the-court briefs with 1st Circuit supporting middle-schooler’s First Amendment right to express his views
Liam Morrison wearing a shirt that says 'There are only two genders'

BOSTON – Sixteen states and a number of advocacy organizations have united in support of a middle school student’s freedom of speech in friend-of-the-court briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in L.M. v. Town of Middleborough. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are representing Liam Morrison, who was forbidden by his school from wearing two T-shirts to school—one reading “There are only two genders” and another that said, “There are censored genders.”

ADF attorneys recently filed their opening brief with the court, asking it to rule that Nichols Middle School in Middleborough violated the First Amendment when it stopped Morrison from wearing his shirts to school. They are also asking the court to stop the school from enforcing its unconstitutional dress code policy that discriminates against students based on the viewpoint they express.

“Students don’t forfeit their free speech when they walk into the school building. This case isn’t about a T-shirt; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Public school officials can’t force Liam to remove a shirt that states his position when the school lets other students wear clothing that speaks on the same issue but from a different viewpoint. As the numerous advocacy organizations that rallied in support of Liam affirm, the First Amendment applies to all Americans, and we urge the court to rule in favor of all speech, not just some.”

Attorneys with ADF and Massachusetts Family Institute filed the lawsuit in May on behalf of Morrison after he wore the “There are only two genders” T-shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology—that there are only two sexes, male and female—and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to biological sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After he politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt to return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

Once school officials censored his original message, Morrison chose to wear an altered shirt that reads, “There are censored genders” to protest the fact that only some messages about gender are allowed. As soon as Morrison arrived at school, his teacher instructed him to go to the principal’s office, where he was told that he could not wear that shirt at school either.

South Carolina and 15 other states joined in submitting a brief in support of Morrison, writing that, “students who agree with the school’s beliefs about gender identity are not burdened by a Dress Code that only permits speech in line with that belief. The Dress Code does not require adherents to gender ideology to alter their usual practice, because the Dress Code specifically conforms to their practice and requires others to do the same. It is those who hold a different view on gender who are specifically targeted and burdened by the Dress Code.”

“If the district court’s ruling is allowed to stand, students in Middleborough will learn the wrong lesson: If your speech is unpopular, the government can silence you,” the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression wrote in its brief. “A student t-shirt making a general, non-obscene statement on gender identity does not invade the rights of others and thus cannot be punished under Tinker. It is undisputed that L.M.’s t-shirt did not target any specific individuals…. It is basic law that the government cannot justify burdening speech by ‘pointing to the offensiveness of the speech to be suppressed.’”

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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John Bursch
John Bursch
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy
John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom.