Appeals court rules against student wearing ‘There are only two genders’ shirt to school

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Liam Morrison. Photo credit: Morrison family

By BRENDAN CLAREY | CHALKBOARD NEWS

A federal appeals court has affirmed the decision of a lower court ruling on a Massachusetts school which told a student he could not wear a shirt saying “There are only two genders” and a similar one that censored the phrase to protest the school’s decision. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of a lower court this week that administrators at John T. Nichols Middle School in Middleborough, Massachusetts were able to tell student Liam Morrison to take his shirt off because it was offensive to gender-expansive youth.

At issue in the case, which was previously covered by Chalkboard, was the tension between Morrison’s free speech rights and those of other students at Middleborough Public School to be exposed to messages they would find hateful or harmful because of their gender identity.

The opinion explained that some LGBTQ+ Nichols Middle School (NMS) students said they had attempted to commit suicide and that about 10-20 students attended the school’s Gay Straight Alliance Club. 

Despite this, seventh-grade student Liam Morrison wore a shirt to school in March of 2023 that said, “There Are Only Two Genders.” 

“[Morrison] wore the Shirt both to express his own views, which he understood to be contrary to those NMS espouses on the subject, and to convey his belief that his views are not ‘inherently hateful,’” the opinion reads. 

School administrators told him to take off the shirt and said in subsequent emails that it targeted “students of a protected class; namely in the area of gender identity.” 

After Morrison’s family filed a lawsuit on his behalf, a district court ruled that school staff were “well within their discretion to conclude” that the shirt’s message would invalidate or erase students who identified as neither male nor female and that students “have a right to attend school without being confronted by messages attacking their identities.”

The appellate court agreed. The opinion filed Sunday said the shirt was demeaning to transgender and gender nonconforming students at NMS and that part of the issue was the age of the students to whom the shirt’s message was directed. The court ruled administrators reasonably predicted the effect the shirt would have on students. 

“We agree with the District Court and so cannot say the message, on its face, shows Middleborough acted unreasonably in concluding that the Shirt would be understood — in this middle school setting in which the children range from ten-to-fourteen years old — to demean the identity of transgender and gender nonconforming NMS students,” the court ruled. 

The 70-page opinion examined the legal precedence of free speech in school settings, often relying on the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which found that students could wear armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

Part of the appellate court’s consideration were the “special characteristics of the school environment” raised in Tinker. Case law after Tinker also considers how to weigh the free speech rights of students against the rights of other students who are targeted by that speech. 

The court said that, ultimately, educators are charged with deciding whether a message on a T-shirt would disrupt class and hurt the learning environment.

“We conclude the record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would ‘poison the educational atmosphere’ and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school,” the opinion reads. 

The question of who determines when something crosses the line is one Chief Judge David J. Barron asked during oral arguments in February.

“The question here is not whether the T-shirts should have been barred. The question is who should decide whether to bar them — educators or federal judges,” the court’s opinion reads. “Based on Tinker, the cases applying it, and the specific record here, we cannot say that in this instance the Constitution assigns the sensitive (and potentially consequential) judgment about what would make ‘an environment conducive to learning’ at NMS to us rather than to the educators closest to the scene.”

31 COMMENTS

  1. Students who accept and promote science, biology in this instance, are prohibited from expressing themselves because deviants and the mentally ill might be offended but normal people are forced to sit in class and stare at gay flags and other deviant propaganda while their woke teachers push gay sex training books and transgenders read stories of deviancy to them.

  2. Lmao, let the degenerates have their own way. They will sterilize their own children and rid future generations of poor genes. It’s like the left is launching the most expansive eugenics campaign of all time, between this and Covid shot deaths it’s going to be only the smart and brave left to reproduce. All in the name of liberal democracy (what ever that means) .

  3. “It’s offensive to gender expansive youth”. Yet if gender expansive youth is offensive to others it’s a violation of their rights.
    The USA, a country deliberately being f#@& with by their ” leaders”.

  4. The courts opinion pointed out that some LGBTQ+ students had attempted suicide?
    So therefore a Tshirt being worn may trigger more suicide attempts?
    Perhaps those suicidal students are in the wrong institution with those types of issues.
    I wouldnt want my children attending any school with other children facing those issues.
    Many of the puppies are sick and need special help from a Dr.

        • Sorry Greg that’s not how it works. Self-evident or inalienable rights are those that belong to each individual. Free Speech is the foundation of a republic. This youngster has the right to his opinion and the right to voice it. You and the school don’t have to like it. Free speech isn’t always nice speech. It would further be interesting what “right” you claim the LGBT youth has that in you view trumps his. Coincidentally you are then making a judgement call instead of allowing all voices.
          Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater to instigate panic, isn’t free speech as it doesn’t express an opinion for debate.

  5. “students of a protected class; namely in the area of gender identity.”

    Have they renamed the school to George Orwell Middle School, yet?
    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  6. Remember when there were school dress codes?
    Remember when the hippies & the courts did away w/ them?

    It would be good if kids had school uniforms imo. (or shirts & ties for boys, dresses for girls)
    But the hippies prefer chaos (& communism)
    Home school.

          • Greg, what fire?? What are you talking about?
            It’s a shirt and if you think a statement on a SHIRT will start WWIII, you need to get off your Lanai and out of the sun.
            If we follow YOUR argument to the letter then you can’t post anymore either, as you certainly incite violence against neighbors with your fire burning their house down comment….
            see how that works.
            On the other side of the coin, are the LGBT kids allowed to wear rainbow colors and sayings? Why would that be okay?

  7. I guess conservatives and Christians should sue the schools and other government organizations that fly the rainbow flag because they offends me. We have free speech and if you start down the road objecting to one point of view, then you have to look at all of the points of view. I guess we could find many things that we could sue the right over that offend us. Obviously this could get out of hand.

    • When I went to school, you couldn’t have your hair touching your collar in the back and you couldn’t have any writing on your shirt. It was just your runof the mill ordinary mid country high school. Then people got butt hurt and hired lawyers. And the wrong judges got appointed, and here we are.

  8. I guess the old phrase “sticks and stones….” no longer applies! What a pampered, wimpy group of humans we have become. How sad!

  9. I would allow my son to just keep wearing some new anti-stupid tshirt everyday and he can top it off with a MAGA hat.

    Don’t use LGBQT….don’t play their dumb game…call them what they are…Non-hetrosexuals.

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