Student sent home for wearing 'homosexuality is a sin' shirt gets payment from school district

Brielle Penkoski, daughter of Rev. Rich Penkoski, was sent home from high school in Livingston, Tennessee, for refusing to change out of this shirt, proclaiming that 'homosexuality is a sin.'
Brielle Penkoski, daughter of Rev. Rich Penkoski, was sent home from high school in Livingston, Tennessee, for refusing to change out of this shirt, proclaiming that "homosexuality is a sin." | Rich Penkoski

More than three years after a street preacher's daughter was sent home from school for wearing a T-shirt declaring "homosexuality is a sin," the family's litigation against the school district has come to an end as the now-adult former student has received a cash payment as part of a settlement. 

In a settlement agreement reached in November and shared with The Christian Post, the Overton County Board of Education in Tennessee agreed to pay $101 to Brielle Penkoski three years after she was sent home from the Livingston Academy public high school for wearing the shirt. 

The school board will also pay the plaintiff's attorney's fees and costs. Penkoski, a minor when the lawsuit was first filed in 2020, is the daughter of street preacher Rich Penkoski, who leads the online ministry Warriors for Christ. 

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While Rich Penkoski was initially a plaintiff in the case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, he was dropped from the case after his daughter turned 18. Although Brielle Penkoski received a payment as part of the settlement, the development comes "without acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of any party or the agents or employees of any party, which wrongdoing is expressly denied."

In a statement to The Christian Post, Rich Penkoski said he felt vindicated, saying it's commonplace for the party that opts to settle not to admit wrongdoing on paper. 

"A lot of people don't understand this, but when it comes to civil rights lawsuits … there's this perception that somehow we get paid lots of money for these things. Well, it's not true. Most of the time, it's a dollar," he said. 

"But Brielle got $100, which is way, way more than we thought she was going to get anyway out of this," he added. "The other part of this is all the teachers, at least from 2020, were told to start taking First Amendment courses, it was one of the things that I insisted on, that I wanted them to take First Amendment training courses."

In a 2020 interview with The Christian Post, Rich Penkoski accused the Overton County Board of Education of violating his daughter's First Amendment rights by asking her to change out of a black shirt emblazoned with a reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 on Aug. 25, 2020.

Penkoski told CP that after his daughter refused to change out of the shirt, she was sent home from school. He said the principal at the time justified the demand to remove his daughter's shirt because the clothing contained a "sexual connotation."

Penkoski believed the school district held a double standard when it comes to what constitutes "sexual connotation" because one of Brielle's teachers had an LGBT pride sticker on display in his classroom, which featured the rainbow colors that have come to symbolize LGBT advocacy.

The sticker identified the classroom as a "Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming Safe Space For Everyone." Penkoski reported that the principal did not seem to have an issue with the display. Overton County Schools did not respond to The Christian Post's request for comment at the time. 

As an outspoken critic of LGBT ideology, Penkoski suggested that his daughter was "told to leave" because she expressed a dissenting opinion on the matter. "She wanted to do this on her own. She wanted to go there to … express her values like all the other kids do," he said. "They've got kids walking around with the pride symbol on their sneakers and pride clothing and nobody bats an eye."

"She was basically censored," he added. "It's not fair … that she's told that she can't wear that shirt and other people can wear the stuff that they wear." 

Alleging that teachers at the school were "pushing Joe Biden … [and] pushing the rainbow stuff," Penkoski lamented that "if a Christian comes up there and repeats what the Bible says, they are seen as intolerant, they are seen as hateful." Penkoski rejected this line of thinking. 

"Simply saying 'homosexuality is a sin' is not hate speech. That's what the Bible says. And we need to start preaching truthfully," he concluded.

Penkoski said the teacher who had the LGBT display in his classroom has since left school and his daughter's treatment led to pushback against a proposed Gay-Straight Alliance at the school from the student body, which resulted in the club not forming as planned. The Penkoskis have since moved out of Tennessee. 

Penkoski previously called the school's objection to his daughter's shirt an example of a "movement" attempting to "recruit kids" and "indoctrinate kids with liberal ideology, promoting sex and sexuality to kids."

Sharing his belief that "the schools are supposed to teach reading and writing and arithmetic," Penkoski declared that "they're not supposed to push issues of faith" and "they're not supposed to be pushing a political ideology."

In March, a 12-year-old student attending a public school in Massachusetts was sent home for wearing a shirt reading, "there are only two genders." Like Penkoski, Liam Morrison's family characterized the school district's action as a violation of their son's First Amendment rights. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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