Minnesota School District Settles Lawsuit After Prohibiting Pro-Life T-Shirt
by Steven Ertelt
October 26, 2008
Hutchinson, MN (LifeNews.com) — A school district in Minnesota has settled a lawsuit with the family of a junior high school student prohibited from wearing a pro-life T-shirt that condemned abortion. The Hutchinson School District in Hutchinson, Minnesota agreed to pay the student $1 in damages and the legal fees for the pro-life lawsuit that represented him.
In the settlement, filed in federal court on Wednesday, the school district did not admit violating the students First Amendment rights or state or local laws
Instead, school officials said they settled the suit because they wanted to avoid paying the legal expenses associated with fighting it in court. Attorneys with the Thomas More Law center, a pro-life legal firm based in Michigan, represented the unnamed student.
Under the terms of the settlement, the student is allowed to wear his pro-life shirts as long as the district retained the right to make sure the shirts don’t cause a disruption of the school process.
The lawsuit claimed the Hutchinson school district prevented the 12-year-old from wearing the shirt and forced him to turn it inside out after he had worn various pro-life T-shirts for several days. TMLC officials filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
It alleged the district violated the free speech rights of Jeanne Ibbitson’s son and that he suffered "irreparable harm."
"My son kept getting singled out," Ibbitson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press at the time. "He should be able to wear those shirts at school, and they decided that he can’t. It’s not right."
"We’re a Christian family," she added. "He knows it’s the termination of life. He knows that it’s wrong. He should have the right to wear the shirt to express that. Even if he’s the only person at the school who believes that, he should still be able to wear that shirt under the Constitution, and they’ve taken that away from him."
Burnsville attorney Paul Taylor was the local counsel for the boy and his mother and initially indicated he believed the school violated his rights 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. "The fact is, they were punishing the message."
"People who have popular speech don’t need constitutional protections," he said. "The First Amendment was directed by the founding fathers to protect unpopular speech."
One shirt had the message, "Abortion Growing, Growing, Gone," another had "What part of abortion don’t you understand?" and the third had "Never Known, Not Forgotten" on the front, with the inscription "47,000,000 babies aborted 1973-2008" on the back.
The student wore the shirts on April 29, which pro-life groups have sponsored as National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day and continued wearing them days after the event.
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