Judge: Rights Violated in Prom Case, But No Injunction

By Mark Walsh — March 24, 2010 1 min read
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A Mississippi school district likely violated the free speech rights of a lesbian student when it refused her permission to take her girlfriend to the prom or to wear a tuxedo, a federal district judge has ruled.

But U.S. Senior District Judge Glen H. Davidson, of Aberdeen, Miss., denied an injunction that would have required the 3,700-student Itawamba County School District to reinstate the April 2 school-sponsored prom, which was canceled March 10 amid the controversy over the request by student Constance McMillen.

Because parents have stepped forward to put on a private, inclusive prom open to all students of Itawamba Agricultural High School, “the court finds that requiring defendants to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue,” Judge Davidson said in his March 23 opinion in McMillen v. Itawamba County School District.

Despite his refusal to grant the injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union on the student’s behalf, the judge’s preliminary ruling was that McMillen’s First Amendment rights were violated.

“The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date,” the judge said. “The court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment. The court is also of the opinion that the motive behind the School Board’s cancellation of the prom, or withdrawal of their sponsorship, was Constance’s requests and the ACLU’s demand letter sent on her behalf.”

The preliminary ruling opens the door for the case to proceed to a trial.

The ACLU has a statement on the decision, and the AP reports here.

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