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L.M. v. Town of Middleborough

Description:  A seventh grade student wore a T-shirt to Nichols Middle School in Middleborough, Massachusetts, that said, “There are only two genders.” The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled him out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After he politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, he left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

Wednesday, Feb 7, 2024

WHO:  Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and client

WHAT:  Available for media interviews following oral arguments in L.M. v. Town of Middleborough

WHEN:  Immediately following hearing, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 8

WHERE:  U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Way, Boston, or listen to the audio livestream of the hearing. To schedule an interview, contact ADF Media Relations Specialist Hayden Sledge at (205) 767-4705.

BOSTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys will be available for media interviews at a press conference following oral arguments Thursday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in L.M. v. Town of Middleborough. In the case, ADF attorneys are representing a middle-school student who was forbidden by his school from wearing a T-shirt to school that said, “There are only two genders” and then was changed to say, “There are [censored] genders.” The student will join ADF attorneys at Thursday’s press conference.

ADF attorneys are asking the court to rule that Nichols Middle School in Middleborough violated the First Amendment when it stopped the student from wearing his shirts to school. They are also asking the court to stop the school from enforcing its unconstitutional dress code policy that discriminates against students based on the viewpoint they express.

“Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman, who will be arguing before the court. “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. The school actively promotes its view about gender through posters and ‘Pride’ events. And it encourages other students to wear T-shirts expressing messages about gender. At the end of last school year, another student wore a shirt that said, ‘He she they, it’s all okay.’ That was allowed, even though just a few weeks before they punished L.M. for his ‘There are only two genders’ shirt simply because it did not align with their preferred beliefs. We are urging the court to rule that free speech belongs to all, not some.”

Attorneys with ADF and Massachusetts Family Institute filed the lawsuit in May of last year on behalf of the student after he wore the “There are only two genders” T-shirt to school to peacefully share his belief, informed by his scientific understanding of biology—that there are only two sexes, male and female—and that a person’s gender—their status as a boy or girl, woman or man—is inextricably tied to biological sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled the student out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After he politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt to return to class. As a result, the student left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

Once school officials censored his original message, the student chose to wear an altered shirt that read, “There are [censored] genders” to protest the fact that only some messages about gender are allowed. As soon as he arrived at school, his teacher told him to go to the principal’s office, where he was told that he could not wear that shirt either.

ADF attorneys appealed to the 1st Circuit in September and received broad support from 16 states and multiple advocacy groups in favor of the student’s freedom of speech.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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ABOUT John Bursch

John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and more than 30 state supreme court cases since 2011, and a recent study concluded that among all frequent Supreme Court advocates who did not work for the federal government, he had the 3rd highest success rate for persuading justices to adopt his legal position. Bursch served as solicitor general for the state of Michigan from 2011-2013. He has argued multiple Michigan Supreme Court cases in eight of the last ten terms and has successfully litigated hundreds of matters nationwide, including six with at least $1 billion at stake. As part of his private firm, Bursch Law PLLC, he has represented Fortune 500 companies, foreign and domestic governments, top public officials, and industry associations in high-profile cases, primarily on appeal. He received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Law School and is admitted to practice in numerous federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

ABOUT Logan Spena

Logan Spena serves as legal counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he defends the rights of students, professors, and organizations to speak, associate, and worship freely. Before joining ADF, Spena served as deputy policy director in the Missouri governor’s office, where he oversaw the state’s regulatory reform efforts and worked to approve legislation on many issues including education, foster care, and protecting the unborn. Spena graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2016, where he served as an editor on the Virginia Law Review. Spena earned his B.A. in Government: Political Theory from Patrick Henry College in 2012. He is a member of the Missouri bar.