School sued for banning religion on social media and restricting religious expression at school

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A Michigan high school student and his parents are suing educators for banning the student from expressing religious views on his private social media accounts, or at school without a teacher present to ‘monitor and guide’ the conversation.

The restrictions appear to run counter to at least two Supreme Court rulings protecting students’ right to free speech on and off campus. A 1969 decision, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, concluded that students cannot be punished for on-campus speech unless it “materially and substantially” disrupts the school day or infringes the rights of others.

Last September, in Mahanoy Area School District v. BL, the high court upheld a high school cheerleader’s right to speak out online off-campus, even though the post – in this case, a vulgar Snapchat selfie – was critical of her high school and her joy. program.

Yet David Stout, a junior at Plainwell High School in Plainwell, Michigan, 37 miles south of Grand Rapids, was suspended for three days last fall for stating his Christian beliefs in a private text exchange and in a hallway conversation at school, his lawyers claim. He was also warned about religious expressions online and at school.

The school also disciplined the student for his offensive behavior during a football game back in October. His lawyer said Mr Stout did not participate and was unaware because he was changing his football gear to play in the group during half-time.

The school also allegedly cited Mr Stout for failing to report the homophobic jokes another pupil had told at a group camp the previous summer, and for the private text message he had sent to another student affirming Mr. Stout’s belief in the Christian view of marriage and sexuality.

The other student was reportedly “uncomfortable” with this text message and shared it with school officials.

“They had no reason to discipline him for anything he did,” attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center in Lansing, Michigan, said in a phone interview. “Free speech has its limits, of course, but none of those apply here.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern Division of the Western District of Michigan of the U.S. District Court, names Plainwell Community Schools, principal Jeremy Wright, vice principal Deb Beals and group principals David Hepinstall and Austin Hunt.

The action seeks the quashing of Mr. Stout’s disciplinary action on his school record, as well as unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

Matt Montange, Plainwell Community Schools Superintendent, told The Washington Times that he could not comment on the ongoing litigation or explain the high school’s authority to make any claims it may have made regarding online activity or conversations at Mr. Stout’s school.

Mr Kallman said his client, the high school student in the case, felt as a believer and as a conservative that school officials were “punishing him for his opinions”.

“That’s how he felt, and that’s why he felt he had to stand up and do something about it.”


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