(Photo: Lambda Legal)
An Ohio student who was once threatened with suspension for wearing a T-shirt that read "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe" is now free to wear that shirt to school, a court judgment determined.
Maverick Couch and the Wayne Local School District agreed to a court judgment, submitted Monday, in response to a suit brought by Couch's mother on behalf of her teenage son. The judgment also awarded the Couch family $20,000 in court fees and damages.
Patrick Dubbs, superintendent for the School District, told The Christian Post that the out-of-court agreement was preferable to a lengthy court battle over the suit.
"A lengthy legal battle would be costly and inconsistent with the district's mission of diversity," said Dubbs.
"Based on their experience the $20,000 was an extremely reasonable offer to end the case and to cover all reasonable damages, costs, or fees for the plaintiff. This amount is significantly less than full litigation in Federal Court win or lose."
Regarding the impact of the judgment on school policy for Waynesville, Dubbs explained that the same rules will still be in place for the school district regarding issues pertaining to dress code.
"The settlement preserved the school district's ability to maintain our dress code and to evaluate potential violations on a case by case basis," said Dubbs. "We are ready to put this behind us and move forward. We want to finish the school year strong; senior graduation is Sunday."
The issue originated with an incident that occurred during the 2011 observance of the "Day of Silence" – an annual day in protest of LGBT bullying – at Waynesville High School. Couch, a student enrolled at the school, wore a white T-shirt with the statement "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe" and an Ichthys (or Jesus fish) symbol colored in with a rainbow design.
According to Couch, the principal demanded that he turn the shirt inside out, arguing that it was in violation of the school's policy on indecent clothing. School officials then threatened Couch with suspension should he wear the shirt again.
In early April Maverick's mother filed suit against the district over the matter. Couch was represented by Lambda Legal, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on LGBT issues.
"We're very happy for Maverick and all LGBT students in Ohio," said Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Clark in a statement.
"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."
According to Dubbs, the $20,000 in damages and court costs will be paid out by the school district's insurance company, Chartis.