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Appeals court rules against middle schooler told by school to remove shirt that stated, “There are only two genders”

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[UPDATE]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled that a Massachusetts middle school had the right to ban 7th grader Liam Morrison from wearing a t-shirt which read, “There are only two genders”.

Morrison, who is now in 8th grade, was told in March 2023 by Nichols Middle School officials in Middleborough that he had to change the shirt or be sent home. Morrison refused and was sent home.

He then filed a lawsuit against the school for barring him from expressing his views on a relevant and hotly debated topic. A U.S. district court sided with the school, so Morrison’s legal team, made up of Massachusetts Family Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), appealed the case to the First Circuit.

Morrison’s representation argued that the school censored Morrison, denying him his First Amendment rights, even as it holds Pride events and posts flags throughout the school celebrating gender ideology. His attorneys argue that it is unconstitutional for the school to use its power to silence a student who has opposing views from the school while it establishes gender ideology as orthodox.

Over the weekend, the First Circuit ruled that the school was justified in not allowing Morrison to wear the shirt.

In its opinion in the case of L.M. v. Middleborough, the court wrote,

“Middleborough was enforcing a dress code, so it was making a forecast regarding the disruptive impact of a particular means of expression and not of, say, a stray remark on a playground, a point made during discussion or debate, or a classroom inquiry. The forecast concerned the predicted impact of a message that would confront any student proximate to it throughout the school day.”

The court stated that school authorities “knew the serious nature of the struggles, including suicidal ideation, that some of those students had experienced related to their treatment based on their gender identities by other students, and the effect those struggles could have on those students’ ability to learn.”

The ruling further stated,

“We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

What is crucial to remember is, the school didn’t just send Morrison home for wearing the aforementioned shirt, but later sent him home again when he wore a shirt saying, “There are [censored] genders”.

David Cortman, senior counsel and president of U.S. litigation for ADF, issued a statement after the ruling, saying,

“Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building. This case isn’t about T-shirts; it’s about a public school telling a middle-schooler that he isn’t allowed to express a view that differs from their own…Our legal system is built on the truth that the government cannot silence any speaker just because it disapproves of what they say. The 1st Circuit erred in its decision denying L.M. his right to free speech, and we are reviewing all legal options including appealing this decision.”

Sam Whiting, an attorney with the Massachusetts Family Institute, stated, “While we are disappointed in this decision, we aren’t done fighting yet,” he said, noting that his firm and ADF are considering next steps, including appealing to the Supreme Court.

Under this ruling a student is not allowed to wear a shirt expressing his views because it may upset other students, but the school, a government entity, may express its views through posters, flags, and other forms of speech that enthusiastically celebrate LGBT ideology, which very likely could upset other students.

That is a clear violation of the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. The First Circuit got this wrong and hopefully on appeal the right verdict will be delivered.


ORIGINAL STORY

{Published June 2, 2023}  On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied seventh grade student Liam Morrison’s request that he be allowed to immediately express his views on gender identity after the school he attends banned him from wearing a t-shirt that read: “There are only two genders.”

Morrison, who attends Nichols Middle School (NMS) in Middleborough, Massachusetts, garnered national headlines after the school told him he had to change his shirt. Morrison refused and his dad had to pick him up from school. When NMS told Morrison and his family that he would be prohibited from wearing the shirt, he instead wore a shirt with the message, “There are censored genders.” He was told to remove that shirt as well.

Morrison said he wore the shirt because “everyone has a right to their opinions and I wanted to be able to voice mine on a subject that a lot of people were talking about.”

The 12-year-old spoke during a school committee meeting on April 13, saying,

“What did my shirt say? Five simple words, ‘There are only two genders.’ Nothing harmful, nothing threatening, just a statement I believe to be a fact. I have been told that my shirt was targeting a protected class. Who is this protected class? Are their feelings more important than my rights? 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.”

The Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit on Morrison’s behalf. They claim that the school has “adopted one particular view on the subject of sex and gender: that a person’s subjective identity determines whether a person is male or female, not a person’s sex.” They also argue that NMS has “expressed this view through their own speech; instituted annual, school-wide events celebrating their view; and encouraged students to engage in their own speech on this subject—so long as the students express the school’s favored viewpoint.”

NMS claims the shirt was banned because the dress code prohibits clothing that expresses messages that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

On Wednesday, Morrison’s attorneys asked for a preliminary injunction that would stop NMS from enforcing its ban on Morrison’s shirt while the court considers the case. The court denied the request, but there will be another hearing on June 13.

ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena said in a statement,

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a 7th grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy. Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment that we’re urging the court to rectify.”

When asked what advice he would give to other people, Morrison replied: “Always fight for what you believe in and never let anyone stop you from believing…In the place that we live or in the time that we live there are a lot of people that try and make it so that you’re not allowed to believe what you can but it’s being taken away from us and being able to speak up not just about…your own opinion but for everybody else is a thing that we should all be doing.”

This is an obvious case of a government institution silencing a citizen because it disagrees with his views. The school argues that his shirt was somehow hate speech or targeting a group, despite the fact that the shirt’s message was not threatening. The school’s intent was made transparent when it prohibited Morrison’s shirt pointing out the school’s censorship.

The real story is not that Morrison was somehow hateful but that a public school has been celebrating a particular view on sexual orientation and gender identity, essentially advocating for a religious and philosophical viewpoint, a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The school takes its violations further by attempting to silence a student’s opposing views, views that are actually in keeping with the biological fact that the school should relay to its students — dispelling the gender identity delusion. That shows the state of education: Empirical truth is shunned as hate while ideological propaganda is lauded.

The court should rectify this violation of Morrison’s rights and should issue a strong ruling to guard against further violations. We should all take this brave young student’s advice seriously and defend the right of free speech for all.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 states,

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

There is much pressure to stay quiet on LGBT matters. Yet God’s Word calls us to keep the faith. We must remember that the loving thing to do in this situation is to tell the truth, not a lie, and to withstand the outrage of those who say our beliefs are hateful. The country would be a better place if more Christians were like Liam: courageous, thoughtful, and persistent in speaking the truth — no matter the cost.


As seen in this article, many K-12 schools now embrace the secular woke agenda and are hostile to Christian beliefs and parental rights. Fortunately, parents don’t have to settle for this. Liberty University Online Academy is a K-12 program designed to educate your children in the ways of the Lord while preparing them to stand firm in their faith when they graduate. Our flexible online curriculum ensures that your student is trained at your convenience and keeps YOU the ultimate educator of your children.

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