Every day, kids across the country go to school wearing shirts with words emblazoned across the front. From supporting a favorite sports team to commemorating a favorite vacation spot, shirts expressing messages are a common sight at school.
When a middle-school student in Massachusetts wore a shirt with a few simple words stating a biological fact, he was simply expressing a message that was important to him. He wasn’t disturbing anyone or attacking any other beliefs, but that didn’t stop his school from censoring him.
Read on to learn more about his story.
Who is Liam Morrison?
Liam Morrison is a eighth-grade student at John T. Nichols, Jr. Middle School in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He has been a student at Middleborough Public Schools since kindergarten, and he is currently on his middle school’s honor roll.
During his time at Nichols, Liam has observed school officials embracing ideas about identity that he disagrees with. For example, the school hosted a “Pride Week” in June 2022 in which students were encouraged to celebrate the ideology of gender identity. But when Liam wore a shirt expressing his own beliefs about gender, he was censored.
Liam believes in the biological fact that there are only two sexes: male and female. And like many people, he considers the terms “sex” and “gender” to be interchangeable.
This belief differs from the one that Nichols Middle School promotes about gender identity. The school embraces the idea that people can become “male” or “female” simply by saying so and that these terms are not related to biology.
Furthermore, the school has embraced the belief that people can “identify” as any gender they want, whether that be male, female, or any number of other “genders,” without regard to biology.
As Liam saw his school advocate its own beliefs about gender identity, he felt compelled to peacefully share his views on this issue. He respects the rights of others to share their beliefs, and he simply wanted to do the same.
In March 2023, Liam shared his beliefs by wearing a T-shirt with the message, “There are only two genders.” But during his first class of the day, Liam was removed by the school principal.
The principal told Liam that other students had complained about his shirt and that he must remove it to return to class. Liam politely declined to remove the shirt, so the principal called Liam’s father and sent him home for the rest of the day.
A few weeks later, Liam’s attorney sent a letter to school officials informing them that they had violated Liam’s right to free speech. The officials refused to apologize and said they would continue to prevent Liam from wearing his shirt.
After this exchange, Liam wore a shirt to school with the message, “There are censored genders.” The principal again told Liam that he was not allowed to wear the shirt, and Liam agreed not to put back it on so that he did not miss another day of classes.
Liam has been unable to wear either message on his shirt since that time, even though the messages caused no disruptions and simply stated his beliefs. School officials are violating Liam’s First Amendment rights by preventing him from expressing his beliefs because they disagree with them.
In May 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit against Nichols Middle School on Liam’s behalf. A federal district court ruled against Liam’s freedom of speech, so ADF attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.
What’s at stake?
Nichols Middle School has no problem allowing students to express beliefs about gender and sexuality when it agrees with those beliefs. In fact, it encourages students to express those beliefs. But the school is actively preventing Liam from expressing his beliefs on the very same issue.
Government officials can’t pick and choose which messages to allow on a certain issue. The First Amendment protects freedom for all, not just those with whom the government agrees.
- March 2023: Liam Morrison wore a shirt to Nichols Middle School with the message, “There are only two genders.” The principal told Liam he must remove the shirt to attend class, and when Liam politely declined, the principal sent him home for the day.
- May 2023: Liam wore a shirt with the message, “There are censored genders,” and the principal again made him remove the shirt to attend class. ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the school for violating Liam’s First Amendment rights.
- August 2023: After a federal district court ruled against Liam’s right to speak freely, ADF attorneys appealed to the 1st Circuit.
The bottom line
Students don’t forfeit their free speech when they walk into the school building.