Court rules: School in Massachusetts can ban student's T-shirt with the inscription “Two Genders”

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A public middle school in Massachusetts did not violate a student's right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution when it required the boy to stop wearing a T-shirt that read “There are only two genders,” a federal appeals court ruled.

The Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeals on Sunday ruled in favor of teachers at Nichols Middle School in Middleborough who ordered Liam Morrison to remove his T-shirt last year because they concluded that the message on the T-shirt was degrading to the identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The case is one of a growing number of lawsuits filed by conservative plaintiffs challenging school policies designed to protect LGBT students from harassment and respect their preferred pronouns and gender identities.

Morrison's lawyers said the boy, then 12, wore the T-shirt in seventh grade to express his political opposition to the school's belief that gender is not determined by biology alone. His lawyers said the school expressed those views through pro-LGBT posters and Pride Month celebrations.

Educators asked Morrison in April 2023 to either take off the shirt or leave for the day, which he did. The same thing happened about a month later when he wore a shirt that read “There is [censored] Gender” after his case attracted media attention and protests.

His lawyers from the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom argued that officials violated his First Amendment rights, which protect him from government interference with speech, by deeming the shirts a violation of a hate speech provision of the school's dress code.

U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge David Barron, whose opinion was joined by two other judges appointed by Democratic presidents, said the T-shirts could be understood as expressing the statement that male and female are the only two valid gender identities.

As a result, Barron said, the court could not conclude that educators acted inappropriately in determining that the T-shirts demeaned the identities of transgender and gender nonconforming students. The judge wrote that educators had legal discretion to make that determination.

“The question here is not whether the T-shirts should be banned,” Barron said. “The question is who should decide that – educators or federal judges.”

The ruling upheld the decision of a trial court judge. Morrison's lawyers said he will likely appeal. They could either ask the entire First Circuit to reconsider the case or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear it.

“Students do not lose their right to free speech the moment they enter a school building,” David Cortman, an attorney for Morrison, said in a statement.

The school's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham and Alexia Garamfalvi)

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