Christian student suspended after sharing beliefs on sexuality and gender, lawsuit says

Students sit in a high school classroom.
Students sit in a high school classroom. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

A Michigan student is suing his high school and school district after being punished for sharing his religious views on LGBT issues and laughing at inappropriate jokes during a summer band camp.

A lawsuit was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on behalf of high school junior David Stout against Plainwell Community Schools, Plainwell High School and school officials.

According to the complaint, Stout was suspended for three days last October because school officials concluded that he had violated anti-bullying policies. He was prevented from attending class and participating in after-school activities like band and football.

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Court documents say that Stout explained his opposition to homosexuality and belief that there are only two biological genders in text messages with another student, an act that did not occur on school grounds. He is alleged to have said that the Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin and that God created only two biological genders.

“Plaintiff stated that while homosexual conduct is a sin, however, everyone is a
sinner due to freewill choices, and he would pray for them 'to repent and follow Jesus,’” the lawsuit reads. “He also shared that he would extend love toward them because ‘God commands’ it, as ‘Jesus died on the cross for them and extends His love toward them, and all they have to do is accept it.’”

The student was also said to have laughed at a pair of “inappropriate racial and homophobic ‘jokes’” during a summer band camp on school property.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Band Director Austin Hunt told Stout to “stop posting his political and religious comments on all social media platforms.”

“Defendants Hunt also instructed Plaintiff that if he saw other students’ political or
religious comments on social media that he disagreed with, then he should scroll past their posts and never respond,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant Hunt told Plaintiff that if he had shared his political and religious beliefs and laughed at offensive jokes in the workplace, he would have been fired.”

The complaint argues that the student’s speech “both on and off campus” is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the Michigan Constitution.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has long reiterated that public school students possess the freedom of speech rights that adults have,” the lawsuit reads. “Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Stout is represented by the Lansing-based Great Lakes Justice Center, a legal outfit that is part of the Christian nonprofit organization Salt & Light Global.

Senior Legal Counsel David A. Kallman said in a statement that he believes Stout’s convictions “should be treated with tolerance and respect.”

“Public schools may not violate the constitution and enforce a heckler’s veto of student speech. Nothing David did caused any disruption or problem at the school,” stated Kallman.

“He has the right to express his opinion in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs, without vilification or punishment from the government for holding to those beliefs.”

The Christian Post reached out to Plainwell Community Schools for comment. However, a spokesperson said the school district could not comment on pending litigation.

Last November, a Catholic student sued a New Hampshire school district, claiming he was punished for saying that there are only two genders in a debate with another student.

Identified as “M.P.” in court documents, the freshman at Exeter High School was suspended from playing football following the verbal debate.  

“M. P. did not harass or demean any student, but simply expressed his views on a contentious cultural issue,” stated the lawsuit, filed by Cornerstone Action on behalf of the student.

“The key question before the court will be if Exeter’s Gender Nonconforming Students policy, nearly identical to the policy adopted by school districts across the state, can be used to suppress the free speech rights of students who hold dissenting views.”  

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of a cheerleader who was kicked off her high school team over a profanity-laden social media post that voiced her frustration with not making the varsity squad. In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that “the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus.” 

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that schools have historically been given broad authority to regulate speech "so long as it has a proximate tendency to harm the school, its faculty or students, or its programs."

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