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Court Enters Judgment for Student Over Pro-Gay T-Shirt

By Mark Walsh — May 22, 2012 1 min read
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A federal district judge has approved an agreement that permits an Ohio student to wear a pro-gay T-shirt to his high school whenever he chooses.

Maverick Couch, a student at Waynesville High School, faced a threat of discipline when in April 2011 he wore a shirt that said, “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” on the National Day of Silence, a day for students to show support for gay rights and tolerance.

The principal of Waynesville High allegedly told him that the shirt was disrupting school and that it promoted a religious message and that “religion and state have to be separate.” He was barred from wearing the shirt.

Couch and his parents turned to Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights organization, to press the school district to drop the ban. They argued that the shirt’s message was clearly speech protected by the First Amendment.

In a Feb. 24 letter to Lambda Legal, a lawyer for the school district said that he disagreed that the T-shirt was protected. The district’s lawyer asserted that the message communicated by the shirt was “sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

Couch and his parents sued the school district in April, and this month, the district agreed to a judgment in the student’s favor.

On May 21, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett of Cincinnati accepted the “agreed judgment.” In the judgment in Couch v. Wayne County Local School District, Barrett ruled that Couch was the prevailing party and that the student “is expressly permitted to wear the ‘Jesus Is Not a Homophobe’ T-shirt to school when he chooses.”

The judgment awards a total of $20,000 in damages, costs, and attorney’s fees to the Couch family and their lawyers.

Photo: Maverick Couch, a gay student whose southwest Ohio high school prohibited him from wearing a T-shirt designed to urge tolerance of gays, is suing the school, saying it’s violating his freedom of expression right. (Lambda Legal/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.