School districts across the country have considerable flexibility when it comes to establishing their dress codes. However, this does not mean they possess absolute authority over the attire worn by students, particularly when it involves political messages or personal beliefs. A Massachusetts family is seeking to demonstrate this by initiating a lawsuit.
On May 17, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a legal action in the US District Court against the town of Middleborough, Nichols Middle School Acting Principal Heather Tucker, and several others on behalf of Liam Morrison and his parents, Susan and Christopher Morrison. The lawsuit claims that on March 21, 2023, Liam wore a shirt to school with the statement, “There are only two genders.” Acting Principal Tucker instructed the 12-year-old to remove the shirt, but he refused, resulting in his dismissal from school.
According to Tucker, the student was prohibited from wearing the shirt due to a violation of the school’s dress code, which forbids clothing with messages that promote hate speech or imagery targeting individuals based on protected characteristics, including gender. The lawsuit argues that the school infringed upon Liam’s rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
During a speech presented to the school board, the young student expressed his refusal to remove the t-shirt, arguing that he was merely stating factual information. He questioned the identity of the protected class he was supposedly targeting and raised the inquiry of whether their feelings held more significance than his own rights.
Furthermore, he mentioned his willingness to accept and tolerate various messages, such as pride flags or other expressions supporting the LGBTQ+ community, as he believed in the right of others to hold their own beliefs, just as he does.
While the Supreme Court has not specifically addressed this specific matter, it has consistently upheld the First Amendment rights of students. In 1969, the Supreme Court established a crucial precedent stating that students do not forfeit their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression when entering the school premises.
Liam is now challenging that established precedent by putting it to the test.