A west Michigan high school junior has filed a federal lawsuit against his school district, alleging it violated his right to free speech and to practice his religion.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on behalf of David Stout against the district, as well as specific school officials. Lansing-based nonprofit group Great Lakes Justice Center, which advocates for religious liberties, “sanctity of life” causes and other issues, filed the lawsuit. The center is part of Salt & Light Global, a Christian nonprofit.
Stout and the center’s attorneys are seeking injunctive relief, damages, attorney fees and the reversal of disciplinary action on his school record.
Lawyers for the center claim the district suspended Stout for three days last fall for stating his Christian beliefs in a private text conversation and in a hallway at Plainwell High School. According to the complaint, Stout said in a text that “the Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin” and “everyone is a sinner due to freewill choices, and he would pray for (homosexuals) ‘to repent and follow Jesus.'” He also said he would extend love toward them because “God commands” it.
In addition, the center and Stout allege school officials punished him for “not policing and reporting other students’ inappropriate jokes.” The federal complaint said he was suspended for laughing at inappropriate racial and homophobic jokes as told by other band members on school grounds and didn’t immediately stop them from telling inappropriate jokes.
Center attorneys also claim school officials told Stout he had to stop sharing religious comments on social media.
Furthermore, the center said Stout was punished for others’ offensive behavior at a football game last October. Stout, they said, did not participate in the activities and was not aware of them. According to the complaint, when the high school’s Homecoming king and queen were introduced during halftime of the game, the crowd booed and directed derogatory remarks toward them. Stout, who is a member of the varsity football team and the school’s marching band, was changing uniforms at the time and unaware of the incident.
“My client’s religious speech and beliefs should be treated with tolerance and respect,” David Kallman, senior legal counsel with the Great Lakes Justice Center, said in a statement.
“Public schools may not violate the constitution and enforce a heckler’s veto of student speech,” Kallman said. “Nothing David did caused any disruption or problem at the school. 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.”
Officials with the Plainwell Community Schools said Tuesday they could not comment on pending litigation.
Stout’s father, who is also named David Stout, said he hopes the suit will clear his son’s school record.
“We have always taught our son to be respectful of everyone’s opinion and to be polite to others, as he was here,” Stout’s father said in a statement. “However, tolerance is a two-way street. David is entitled to properly express his faith and beliefs without being disciplined and suspended by Plainwell schools.”
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