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Federal Appeals Court Rules on Massachusetts School’s Dress Code Policy
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Background and Court Decision

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Massachusetts public middle school did not infringe on a student’s free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution by instructing him to stop wearing a T-shirt that read, “There are only two genders.” The decision was handed down by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Boston.

Case Details and School’s Actions

Nichols Middle School in Middleborough required Liam Morrison, a seventh-grade student at the time, to remove the shirt, determining that its message was demeaning to transgender and gender non-conforming students. The school acted in April 2023, insisting that Morrison either change his shirt or leave the premises for the day. The incident was repeated a month later when Morrison wore a shirt stating, “There are [censored] genders,” following media attention and public protests.

Legal Arguments and Court’s Reasoning

Morrison’s legal representation, provided by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the school violated his First Amendment rights by categorizing the shirts as hate speech under the school’s dress code. They contended that Morrison intended to express his political disagreement with the school’s support for views that gender identity is not solely determined by biology.

  
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Chief U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron, supported by two other judges appointed by Democratic presidents, upheld the school’s decision. Barron noted that the shirts could be interpreted as asserting that only male and female genders are valid, thus potentially demeaning to those identifying otherwise. The court ruled that the educators had reasonable grounds to make this determination, emphasizing their legal discretion to decide on such matters.

Broader Context and Future Implications

This case is part of a growing trend of lawsuits from conservative groups challenging school policies that protect LGBT students from harassment and affirm their preferred pronouns and gender identities. Morrison’s attorneys have indicated plans to appeal further, potentially taking the case to the full 1st Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Statements and Reactions

David Cortman, an attorney for Morrison, emphasized in a statement that students retain their free speech rights within school premises. Meanwhile, the school’s legal representative did not provide an immediate response to requests for comment.

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This ruling maintains the trial court’s decision, reinforcing the educators’ authority to regulate school dress codes in ways that protect the identity and dignity of all students.





 

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