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MA boy asks court to protect views of all students, not just some

ADF attorneys file opening brief with 1st Circuit in lawsuit challenging school officials for censoring ‘There are only two genders’ shirt
Liam Morrison wearing a shirt that says 'There are only censored genders'

BOSTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a middle school student 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”—filed their opening brief Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit urging it to protect the student’s freedom of speech.

ADF attorneys are asking the court to rule that Nichols Middle School in Middleborough violated the First Amendment when it stopped Liam 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 every other student wear clothing that speaks on the same issue. 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.

“The First Amendment prohibits schools from replacing the marketplace of ideas with an echo chamber,” the brief in L.M. v. Town of Middleborough states. “Free speech is not reserved for those who share the government’s views. And while schools may advocate their own gender-identity views, they may not censor students' different views.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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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.