U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett: Defender of First Amendment

In April 2011, Maverick Couch wore a T-shirt with lettering that read “JESUS IS NOT A HOMOPHOBE” to Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio. He wore the T-shirt to support the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s “Day of Silence.” The principal of Waynesville High School, Randy Gebhardt, called Mr. Couch into his office and told him to wear the T-shirt inside out. He did. The following day, he wore it again. This time, Mr. Couch was told that he would be suspended if he did not remove the T-shirt. He removed the T-shirt. The following fall, Mr. Couch asked the principal for permission to wear the T-shirt. The principal refused to give him permission. Mr. Couch and his family then talked to lawyers. On 21 May 2012, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett upheld the First Amendment and ordered the school to allow Mr. Couch to wear the T-shirt. U.S. District Judge Barrett also required the school district to pay Mr. Couch $20,000 in damages and court costs. Mr. Couch, a 16-year-old junior, said, “I’m really blessed and happy. It’s just really amazing. I never thought it would come out like this.” Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which sued on Mr. Couch’s behalf, said, “We’re very happy for Maverick and all LGBT students in Ohio. If school officials had any doubt before, it’s clear now: First Amendment rights apply to all students on every day of the year, and efforts to silence LGBT youth will not go unchallenged.” Mr. Couch said, “I just wanted to wear my shirt. The shirt is a statement of pride, and I hope other students like me know that they can be proud, too.” The day after the court judgment, Mr. Couch wore the T-shirt to school. He said, “The principal didn’t say a word.” Mr. Couch added, “We need to accept others how they come no matter their religion, sexual orientation, the color of their skin. Everyone is who they are. We all need to come together as a whole and accept everyone.”

For Further Information: James Eng, “Teen wins right to wear ‘Jesus Is Not a Homophobe’ T-shirt to school.” NBC News. 29 May 2012

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