School sued over 'Jesus is not a homophobe' shirt

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Lambda Legal filed papers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio, on behalf of Maverick Couch, a gay junior who was threatened with suspension if he wears a T-shirt bearing the message “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe.”

“Schools should be in the business of educating students about First Amendment freedoms, not trampling on their right to express themselves,” said Lambda Legal attorney Christopher Clark. “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.”

Last April, Maverick wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or “sign of the fish,” and a slogan that says “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” in observation of National Day of Silence. Principal Randy Gebhardt called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out and Maverick complied.

Over the summer, Maverick further researched his First amendment rights and when school resumed in the fall he approached the principal, seeking permission to wear the T-shirt. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Gebhardt outlining the legal precedent supporting Maverick’s right to wear the shirt, to which the school district issued the response, “…the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

In the papers filed in court on April 3 Lambda Legal argues that the Waynesville School District violated the First amendment and legal precedent supporting students’ free speech. Lambda has asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the school from further interference with Maverick’s First amendment rights.

“I’ve been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight” said Maverick. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”

The case is Couch v. Wayne Local School District.

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