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Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Student's Free Speech Claim Over "Two Genders" T-Shirt

By Rachel Kaufman | Posted on June 10, 2024

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Student's Free Speech Claim Over

Photo Source: Morrison Family via

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Massachusetts public middle school did not violate a student's First Amendment rights by requiring him to stop wearing a T-shirt that stated, "There are only two genders." The decision, issued on Sunday by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sided with educators at Nichols Middle School in Middleborough who had concluded that the shirt's message demeaned the identity of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The case centers on Liam Morrison, who was 12 years old at the time and in the seventh grade when he wore the controversial T-shirt in April 2023. Morrison's attorneys argued that he wore the shirt to express his political disagreement with the school's support for views that biological sex does not solely determine gender. The school's support was reflected in pro-LGBT posters and Pride Month celebrations.

Educators at Nichols Middle School required Morrison to either remove the shirt or leave for the day, deeming it a violation of the school's dress code which prohibits hate speech. Morrison faced the same ultimatum about a month later when he wore another T-shirt that said, "There are genders," following media coverage and protests about his case.

Morrison's legal representation, Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, argued that the school's actions violated his First Amendment rights. They contended that the school had no right to interfere with his speech, as protected by the U.S. Constitution.

However, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron, in an opinion joined by two fellow judges appointed by Democratic presidents, ruled that the T-shirts' messages could reasonably be interpreted as demeaning to transgender and gender non-conforming students. Judge Barron emphasized that educators are granted legal discretion in such matters to maintain an environment conducive to learning and respect for all students.

"The question here is not whether the t-shirts should have been barred," Barron wrote. "The question is who should decide whether to bar them - educators or federal judges."

The ruling upholds a previous decision by a trial court judge, affirming the school's authority to regulate student attire that could potentially harm or demean other students.

Morrison's attorneys have indicated that they are likely to pursue further legal action, potentially asking the full 1st Circuit to reconsider the case or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Students don't lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building," said David Cortman, an attorney for Morrison, in a statement following the ruling.

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