A 12-year-old student in Hutchinson, Minn., is suing his school after
officials asked him not to wear controversial anti-choice T-shirts. He
has gotten legal help from the Thomas More Law Center, a group that bills itself as "Christianity’s answer to the ACLU."
The Minnesota school is in the midst of a showdown between free speech
advocates who are right-wing Christians and school administrators who
want disruption-free classrooms. Court systems nationwide have seen
heightened caseloads in recent years as religious rights groups fight
for students to wear anti-gay and anti-abortion messaging under the
mantra of religious freedom.
The student, known only as K.B. in the lawsuit, planned to wear an
anti-abortion shirt every school day in the month of April, but school
officials repeatedly asked him to turn the shirts inside out and to
refrain from wearing them at school. The shirts were purchased from the
American Life League, which calls itself a Roman Catholic pro-life
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shirts read, "Abortion… growing, growing, gone," "What part of abortion
don’t you understand?" and "Never Known – Not Forgotten: 47,000,000
babies aborted 1973-2008." Other shirts available
from American Life League include "The Pill Kills," "America’s Hidden
Holocaust" and "Planned Parenthood Kills Babies" — certainly
controversial and potentially classroom disruptive.
K.B.’s mother, Jeanne Ibbitson, is a single parent who describes herself as a devout Christian.
"He shouldn’t have lost his reputation as a good kid," Ibbitson told the Pioneer Press.
"He shouldn’t be known as the kid who is constantly going to the
office. They look at him as defiant now. I applaud him. He is really
shy. And it’s scary to stand up to people in authority, unless you’re a
defiant kid, which he’s not. It was hard for him to get up every day
and put the T-shirt on and go to school to try and carry on his mission
for the month."
The family is seeking "unspecified compensatory and punitive damages"
for "irreparable damages" caused by school officials’ actions. The suit
has been filed in U. S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
The courts have set a precedent in cases involving Christian students
wearing T-shirts that could potentially incite classroom disruption.
Positive messaging is preferred. Last year, a suburban Chicago school
won a court case when a student wore a T-shirt that read "Be Happy, Not
Gay." The student sued on the basis of free speech and religious
expression but lost. The school said it would have allowed positive
messages such as "Be Happy, Be Straight," and the court agreed that positive speech wouldn’t be construed as disruptive.