Skip to main content
Card Image

MA boy forbidden to wear 'There are only two genders' T-shirt to school

ADF attorneys representing seventh grader file federal lawsuit against Middleborough city, school officials for free speech violation

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. – On behalf of a middle school student, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Town of Middleborough and school officials for forbidding seventh grade Liam Morrison to wear a T-shirt to school that says, “There are only two genders.”

Morrison attends Nichols Middle School in Middleborough. In March, he wore the 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 sex. The principal of the school, along with a school counselor, pulled Morrison out of class and ordered him to remove his shirt. After Morrison politely declined, school officials said that he must remove the shirt or he could not return to class. As a result, Morrison left school and missed the rest of his classes that day.

“This isn’t about a T-shirt; this is about a public school telling a seventh grader that he isn’t allowed to hold a view that differs from the school’s preferred orthodoxy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public school officials can’t censor Liam’s speech by forcing him to remove a shirt that states a scientific fact. Doing so is a gross violation of the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys explain in the lawsuit that Middleborough school officials have adopted one particular view on the subject of sex and gender: that a person’s subjective identity determines whether a person is male or female, not a person’s sex. They have expressed this view through their own speech and instituted annual, school-wide events celebrating their view and encouraging students to engage in their own speech on this subject—so long as the students express the school’s favored viewpoint. School officials have also created and implemented a speech policy which they admit permits students to express viewpoints supporting their view of gender identity but forbids students from expressing a contrary view.

Middleborough officials allow students to convey a multitude of messages on their clothing, yet prohibited Morrison from wearing his “There are only two genders” shirt because they said their dress code prohibits messages on clothing that “state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.” Morrison’s shirt caused no disruptions at school when school officials demanded he remove it.

School officials’ censorship of Morrison’s message, and the speech policy and practice on which that censorship was based, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, L.M. v. Town of Middleborough, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

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.

# # #