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A high school student in Michigan has filed a lawsuit in federal court against his school after being disciplined for sharing his deeply held Christian beliefs on God’s design for marriage and family.
David Stout, a junior at Plainwell High School, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan after he was suspended for three days for expressing his Christian beliefs and opinions in a private conversation with a student who shared his point of view, as well as in text messages outside of school property.
In his conversations, Stout shared the Biblical design for marriage, identifying LGBTQ + relationships as out of sync with God’s plan and affirming that God created only two biological genders, male and female. Surprisingly, Stout alleges that he was asked to “self-report” his sharing or religious and political beliefs with fellow students to school officials.
“David was suspended for three days last fall for stating his Christian beliefs in a private text conversation and in a hallway at school, (and) is also being punished for not policing and reporting the inappropriate jokes of fellow students,” said David A. Kallman, senior counsel of the Great Lakes Justice Center, who is representing the Stout family in the case. “He has the right to express his opinion in accordance with his religious beliefs without vilification or punishment from the government.”
David’s father, David Stout Sr., also defended his son by noting, “We have always taught our son to be respectful of everyone’s opinion and to be polite to others. He is entitled to properly express his beliefs without being disciplined by Plainwell Schools.”
Plainwell Community Schools’ spokesperson Elizabeth Gallagher responded only by saying, “Due to pending litigation, we are not able to comment at this time.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgement that the school district violated Stout’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Constitution. It also asks for a reversal of the disciplinary action in his school record and payment of financial damages and attorney’s fees.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has long reiterated that public school students possess the freedom of speech rights that adults have,” the lawsuit argued, citing Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), as well as other Supreme Court rulings that uphold the First Amendment rights of student to express ideas and opinions, even if disfavored or offensive to the majority. In Tinker, the majority stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The lawsuit alleges that the student was told he had to “lay down your beliefs for others” because he is a band section leader. He was also told he had to stop talking about his beliefs because it made others uncomfortable. Those are blatantly unconstitutional instructions. This is not a situation of a teacher leading students in mandatory prayer, this is a student having a conversation with other students.
David Stout Jr. did nothing wrong, but the school tried to silence him because others were — or could have been — offended. Protecting the feelings of students (or more likely, the feelings of teachers, staff, and administrators) who haven’t learned or don’t want to cope with dissenting opinions does not warrant the trampling of a student’s constitutional liberties.