A high school in Ohio threatened to suspend a student for wearing a shirt that said “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe,” according to Lambda Legal, who filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the school district on his behalf.
Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior at Waynesville High School, wore the shirt during the National Day of Silence last April. The day of silence is meant to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
“I’ve been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight” Couch said. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”
School officials said the shirt was “indecent and sexual in nature” and ordered Couch to turn his shirt inside out. He complied with the order. Next year, he asked the principal for permission to wear the shirt again, but was told he would be suspended if he did so.
Lambda Legal said the school violated Couch’s First Amendment rights.
“Schools should be in the business of educating students about First Amendment freedoms, not trampling on their right to express themselves,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “The school has not offered – and cannot offer – any legitimate reason for threatening Maverick with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he’s gay.”
High schools across the country have struggled to balance students’ First Amendment rights with the need to maintain order. Last year, a school in Louisiana was sued by the ACLU after it disciplined a student for wearing shirt in support of LGBT rights. The ACLU also sued a school in Illinois for disciplining students who wore shirts that criticized gay people.
[LGBT flag via Shutterstock]
UPDATE: Watch the video, first aired by WCPO television on April 3, 2012 below: