A woman is suing a Minnesota school district alleging her 12-year-old son’s First Amendment rights were violated when his teachers forbade him to wear a T-shirt protesting abortion.
Jeanne Ibbitson’s son, identified only as “K.B.”, was repeatedly warned by teachers and administrators of his school that he could not wear pro-life T-shirts to school. When he continued to try to wear them, they made him turn his shirt inside out.
"My son kept getting singled out," Ibbitson said. "He should be able to wear those shirts at school, and they decided that he can't. It's not right."
One T-shirt read, "Abortion — Growing, Growing, Gone," another read "What part of abortion don't you understand?" and the third had the words "Never Known, Not Forgotten" on the front, with the text "47,000,000 babies aborted 1973-2008" on the back. Each T-shirt bore photos of unborn children. All the shirts were ordered from the web site of the American Life League, a pro-life group.
On Wednesday attorneys for the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center filed suit against Independent School District No. 423. According to the lawsuit, K.B. had decided to wear the T-shirts each day during April, anticipating “National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day” on April 29.
A press release from the Thomas More Law Center alleges more than a dozen incidents in which teachers or administrators told K.B. not to wear the shirts. In the various incidents K.B. was allegedly singled out for ridicule in front of his classmates, removed from class, sent to the principal’s office, forced to turn his T-shirt inside out and threatened with suspension unless he stopped wearing the T-shirts.
The lawsuit says the boy wore a pro-life T-shirt on April 1, but the next day a teacher told him the shirt was inappropriate for school and could be offensive. The lawsuit says one teacher threatened to send K.B. to the principal’s office if he continued wearing the shirts because “the message conveyed by his shirt was 'not appropriate for class.'”
The principal reportedly told the boy he could wear one T-shirt, but only on National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day.
The Pioneer Press reports that Daron VanderHeiden, superintendent of Independent School District No. 423, said he had just received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment on it. He said the district was seeking legal counsel.
“I don't know the facts of the incident other than what's in here (the lawsuit), and that's their version of what happened,” VanderHeiden said.
Paul Taylor, a Burnsville attorney who is a volunteer with the Thomas More Law Center, claimed school officials violated K.B.’s right to free speech because “they didn’t like the message.”
"The Supreme Court has said students don't check their free-speech rights at the schoolhouse door," Taylor said, according to the Pioneer Press. "The fact is, they were punishing the message."
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented on the case, saying, “This courageous young Christian was ridiculed and threatened by teachers for expressing his deeply held beliefs. These school officials clearly violated the U. S. Constitution and the school’s own written Dress Policy which specifically states it is not intended to abridge the rights of students to express political or religious messages.”