Federal Court Upholds School’s Decision To Bar Student’s ‘Only Two Genders’ T-Shirt

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled in favor of administrators at the John T. Nichols Middle School (NMS) and Middleborough School District in Massachusetts, upholding their decision to censor a student’s scientifically correct T-shirt that read “There are only two genders.”

The unanimous panel of judges determined that the school’s actions were justified under the precedent set by the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case.

The court’s ruling also extends to a second instance in which the same student, Liam Morrison, attempted to wear the shirt with the words “only two” covered by tape and replaced with the word “censored.” The judges concluded that the school’s educators, rather than federal judges, are best positioned to make sensitive decisions about what constitutes “an environment conducive to learning” at NMS.

In their decision, the court cited the school’s dress code, which prohibits clothing that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that [targets] groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.” The court agreed with the school’s assessment that the message on Morrison’s shirt would “materially disrupt transgender and gender non-conforming students’ ability to focus on learning.”

The judges acknowledged the “demeaning nature” of the shirt’s message and the school’s awareness of some transgender students struggling with suicidal thoughts. They concluded that it was reasonable for the school to anticipate that a message denying the existence of transgender and gender non-conforming students’ identities would have a serious negative impact on their ability to concentrate on their studies.

While Morrison’s lawyers argued that the shirts did not impinge on the rights of other students and constituted a “silent, passive expression of opinion,” the court ultimately sided with the school administrators. The decision has drawn criticism from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Morrison, with the organization’s vice president of U.S. litigation, David Cortman, stating that “our legal system is built on the truth that the government cannot silence any speaker just because it disapproves of what they say.”

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