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More School Idiocy And Administrations That Don’t Understand Students’ Rights.

David Stout, Jr., is a junior who attends high school at Plainwell High School in Plainwell, Michigan.

From all accounts, he is a bright young man who has never been in trouble, gets good grades, plays on the Plainwell “Trojans” football team, and is a section leader in the school band.

From the lawsuit filed against the school, school district and various administration officials, we find that Stout was suspended for three days this past year. (The lawsuit is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

A press release from the Great Lakes Justice Center who is representing Stout states:

Plainwell, Michigan – Great Lakes Justice Center filed a complaint today in Federal Court in the Western District of Michigan on behalf of high school junior David Stout. He was suspended for three days last fall for stating his Christian beliefs in a private text conversation and in a hallway at school. The school also punished him for not policing and reporting other student’s inappropriate jokes. The Defendants’ further instructed David that he must stop posting his religious comments on all his social media platforms. He was also disciplined because of some offensive behavior by others, in which he did not participate and was not aware of, at a football game last October.

The complaint alleges four Counts:

Violation of David’s First Amendment constitutional rights to Free Speech and to the Free Exercise of Religion.
Violation of his Michigan constitutional rights.
The school’s policies are unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.
Violations of the Matt Epling Safe School Law.

Before we get into the facts of the case, we want to note that attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center starts the complaint with reminding whoever reads the complaint the basic laws and Supreme Court decisions that apply:

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

“Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.” Metal v. Tam, 137 S.Ct. 1744, 1751 (2017).

“Students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969); Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., 141 U.S. 2038 (2021).

You can read the entire recitation of the allegations starting at page 6 of the complaint below. We will try and summarize them here.

Around April 28, Stout and four other friends were playing and chatting online as they had done for years. One of the kids asked to speak to Stout in private and then asked Stout his opinions concerning another friend of the kid who was gay.

Stout responded that he thought the Bible taught that homosexuality was a sin, but that everyone is a sinner so he would pray that the kid’s friend would “repent and follow Jesus.” (This is our belief as well.)

The other kid, who Stout thought was a “like minded Christian,” began to “berate” Stout over Stout’s religious views, and proceeded to call him names. Due to the fact they were friends, Stout ended the conversation. Not wanting to lose a friend, Stout called the friend a day later and was met with the same belligerence and attacks as the day before.

On both days, the chats were private and not on school grounds. Furthermore, Stout did not speak of the encounter to anyone or post it on social media.


At the end of July, 2021, Stout attended Plainwell High School’s Band Camp. Stout had been appointed to be a section leader of approximately 12 band members.

The first day of camp, Stout was eating with a group of approximately 8 to 10 other attendees when two freshman told an “inappropriate and immature racial and homophobic” “joke.” There was some polite, nervous chuckles as you might expect from kids in high school. When the two freshman started to tell another “joke,” Stout stopped them. When they continued, Stout became more forceful saying “Enough! You need to stop!”

Stout was approached by another student after the incident saying that she was not offended by Stout or what he had done.


October 15, 2021 was homecoming for Plainwell High School. Stout played in the football game for the first half. He prepared to play with the band as well. During that preparation, the Homecoming King and Queen were announced. The two identified as homosexual. Members of the band and people in the stands boo’ed and made comments. Stout was oblivious to all this as he was still trying to get ready to play at halftime and was in the locker room.


On October 18, 2021, the band was told to report to the auditorium. While no band members were named at the time, the school administration and the Band Directors told the assembled band members that the comments made toward the homecoming KIng and Queen had made people feel “unsafe.” The band members were then told the school had lists of names of the members that had made comments. The administration and the band directors told the band members they needed to “self report” what they said, and if they did not, the punishment would be more severe.


It is here that the story starts to go down hill.

One of the band directors named Austin Hunt pulled Stout into the band office on October 19, 2121 for a private meeting.

Hunt wanted to know why Stout had not “self reported” the joke told at the band camp and also not “self reported” sharing his religious and political views at school (emphasis ours.)

Stout replied that he had reported the joke told at band camp. Hunt also told Stout that Stout needed to preemptively stop people from saying things that were “offensive,” thereby making Stout responsible for the conduct and speech of others even before the other person says anything.

Hunt then went further down the rabbit hole and informed Stout that he could no longer have conversations concerning his religious beliefs as someone else might hear them and be “offended.” Hunt also told Stout not to share his faith inside or outside of the band. In addition, Hunt told Stout could not comment or post his political or religious views on social media and needed to scroll past posts dealing with other political and religious points of view and never respond.

Hunt told Stout that he was going to email Principal Jeremy Wright and Assistant Principal Deb Beals what was said in the conversation.

The following day, Hunt again met with Stout and asked him what he thought about their conversation. Stout expressed that people who overheard conversations should not feel offended or unsafe.

Quoting the complaint:

80. Defendant Hunt stated that because the school is a public place, Plaintiff could not express his Christian beliefs or political opinions in private conversations, for the very reason that someone overhearing such beliefs and opinions could be hurt or offended.
81. Defendant Hunt again stated that if such private conversations were overheard in the workplace, Plaintiff would be fired. [editor’s note: “fired” in this context means Stout would be relieved of his position as section leader]
82. Plaintiff responded that he felt all of this was very one-sided and a method to shame, intimidate, and silence conservatives and Christians.
83. Defendant Hunt admitted that Plaintiff’s observation was correct. (emphasis ours)

We are stunned that Hunt admitted that he and the school was actively suppressing First Amendment protected speech.

After Hunt emailed a summary of the conversation to Principal Wright and Assistant Beals, Stout was called into a meeting with them.

Again, from the complaint:

89. Defendants stated that Plaintiff’s name was on their “list” of students that had used certain phrases or words and that Plaintiff had not self-reported.
90. Defendants asked Plaintiff if he had spoken these phrases and words, and Plaintiff admitted to using certain phrases in the private April text messages and denied using any inappropriate phrases and words at school or at any school function.
91. Defendant Wright implied Plaintiff was a racist since he had not preemptively stopped others from making racist comments, and this allegation was supported by Defendant Beals’ opinion that “whatever you allow is what you support.”
92. Defendant Wright repeated the theme that Defendant Hunt had stated earlier that what Plaintiff had “done” could have gotten him in trouble in the workplace.
93. To emphasize this point, Defendant Wright presented a story of a former student who applied to be a police officer, and because this student had been involved in a similar situation while in high school, Defendant Wright wrote in his background check statement that this student was a racist, thus, directly threatening Plaintiff with similar action if he did not stop sharing his Christian and political beliefs.
94. Defendants continued to tell Plaintiff that he could not have religious or political conversations in school since it is a public place, and someone could be offended by his religious beliefs or political opinions.
95. Defendants further threatened Plaintiff by stating that anything Plaintiff did or said in school, outside of the school, or on social media platforms, could get him into trouble and negatively affect his future employment.
96. Plaintiff believed that Defendants would disciple him for anything he did or said on or off campus if it offended anyone connected with the school.

Not only did the school seek to suppress protected speech, the administration threatened Stout with retaliatory actions for exercising his First Amendment right of speech and religion.

The school then determined that Stout was guilty of violating the school’s Bullying / Cyberbullying / Harassment policy and suspended Stout for three days from October 25th through October 27th. Stout was not allowed to participate in any school activities, including band or football practice.

Stout’s parents got involved and met with the school administration:

107. When asked what Plaintiff {Stout] had done, Defendants could not provide them with any specifics except that he was accused of “laughing” at some racial and homophobic “jokes” that other kids had told during the summer band camp months ago; that he had participated in an off campus, private group chat/text session during which he texted that God would not accept homosexual conduct because it is a sin; and that he had private, on campus conversations regarding religious beliefs with friends in the band that, while not directed towards any particular person,was overheard by another student.
108. Defendants also stated that as a band section leader, he had not self-reported sharing his Christian beliefs with other students and, thus, failed to take personal responsibility for sharing his Christian beliefs, an offense worthy of disciplinary action according to Defendants.
109. Defendant Wright continued that while these conversations were in isolation and intended to be private, they made some members of the band feel uncomfortable and created problems.
110. Defendant Wright indicated that while Plaintiff is a “great kid” and is entitled to believe what he wants, he should speak with “good purpose,” meaning not to offend anyone and stop sharing his Christian beliefs with anyone.
111. When Plaintiff’s parents asked what their son and like-minded children are allowed to say, Defendant Wright repeated that students are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but when others overhear their private conversations about religion, a line is crossed, and the school can impose discipline.112. Defendant Wright continued that Plaintiff and other like-minded students cannot have a private conversation on campus about religious or political topics, as there is no right to privacy on school property.
113. Plaintiff’s parents then asked if their son as a Christian could share his Biblical beliefs anywhere on campus, and Defendant Wright responded that he could only talk about these life issues in a classroom setting with a teacher present to regulate and guide the conversation.

When the parents said that Stout was not present when the Homecoming incident occurred, Wright replied that Stout’s private texts, his private conversations and “jokes” told by other students created a form of harassment and an unsafe environment for other students.

That means that the school truly believes that any private conversation – whether it be held on school grounds or off school grounds including at one’s home – was subject to some bizarre school oversight. Not only that, but once again the school was making Stout responsible to the speech of others – speech that Stout had expressed was inappropriate – before the other students even opened their mouths.

There two other things to note:

Stout and his family say they are unaware of other student being disciplined for religious or political speech. While normally we would dismiss this because there always has to be a first person who breaks a rule, the school was relying in parts on texts Stout had with his gaming friend. Stout never said anything derogatorily about the friend or the friend’s views. The friend, on the other hand had stated political and religious views and verbally attacked Stout. The friend was not disciplined.

Secondly, there was no disruption in the school at all because of Stout’s religious and political beliefs.


This has to be one of the most egregious cases of a school violating the First Amendment rights of a student we can remember.

The School truly lowered the bar on this one.

Discussion:

The school says that it can limit speech. The Supreme Court says otherwise with a few limited exceptions.

In the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, three students were disciplined for wearing black arm bands in protest of the Viet Nam war. The students were suspended.

The Court held:

1. In wearing armbands, the petitioners were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive, and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth.

2. First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students, subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.

3. A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In the case we are discussing, Stout’s speech caused no disruption in the school environment. Furthermore, Stout’s speech did not impact the rights of others.

While Tinker deals with on campus speech and school sponsored or endorsed events, the School used a private conversation between Stout and his gaming friend to somehow try to silence him.

In the case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L., a girl who was not selected for the varsity cheerleading squad posted privately on social media some vulgar and angry things about the school and the cheerleading squad. The post was seen by a mother of one of the cheerleaders who reported it to the school and the girl was suspended from school and the junior varsity squad.

The Court held:

But three features of off-campus speech often, even if not always, distinguish schools’ efforts to regulate off-campus speech. First, a school will rarely stand in loco parentis when a student speaks off campus. Second, from the student speaker’s perspective, regulations of off-campus speech, when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech, include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day. That means courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all. Third, the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus, because America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Taken together, these three features of much off-campus speech mean that the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished. (italic in original; bolding ours)

The School had a duty to protect the First Amendment rights of Stout and they did not. Instead, they attacked him and suspended him on the basis that someone may be “offended” or “hurt.”

As stated in the complaint and echoed here, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court held:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

The case involved a incident that to this day is controversial. In 1984, during the Republican National Convention being held in Texas, Gregory Lee Johnson decided to burn an American flag. He was arrested and charged with several offenses, but the Supreme Court ruled that speech – even expressive activities like flag burning – is protected speech. Even ideas that are abhorrent to many, including many military vets, are protected.

Stout did not burn a flag. All he did was have private conversations with people. The idea that the School found the topics of those conversations disagreeable matters not one iota. The School had the duty to protect Stout’s right to express himself in a manner that was not disruptive due to the school environment. The School failed.

The complaint also mentions the case of Matal v. Tam which is one of our favorite cases.

In this case, the rock group “The Slants” was denied a trademark because the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) had a rule that trademarks could not be “offensive” and “disparaging.” The name “Slants” was seen as disparaging to Asians so the PTO denied the trademark application. (It skipped the notice of the PTO that the members of the band were Asian and the name was sarcastic in many ways. The band also chose the name to “take back” and “reclaim” stereotypes they had grown up with concerning people of Asian descent.)

The Supreme Court shot down the PTO office and made an important statement:

“Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

When the School claims that people may be offended or have their feelings hurt, the Constitution and the Supreme Court say, “and your point?”

(For those of you who follow this blog, you know we always tell City Councils and Commissions that you cannot bar speech because you don’t like what it says. This comes into play when Councils and Commissions have ceremonies on how great someone is, and they try to prevent anyone who says anything negative about a person. If you allow the “positive,” you have to allow the “negative.”)

The School fails here as well in that they were stopping Stout from expressing his thoughts and beliefs because someone may be “offended.”

We won’t even get into the idea that the School suspended Stout in part because he had not “self reported” that he had spoken to people about his religious and political beliefs. We cannot find any basis for someone being punished for “self reporting” protected speech.

Attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center is also going after the School and School District for violating 42 U.S. Code § 1983 which reads:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

You don’t generally see this being cited as cause of action. You see a lot of loony so called “sovereign citizens” screaming about it all the time, but they are wrong on the law(s) they claim are being violated.

Here, Kallman is saying that the School, the School District, the Principal, the Assistant Principal and the Band Directors used their authority granted under state law to deprive David Stout of his First Amendment rights of expression and religion.

He’s right.

The School said “bow down to us as we strip you of your rights.”

The complaint does not specify any amount of damages that Stout is seeking. It only asks for compensatory and/or nominal damages and lawyer fees / costs.

As we said, this case is so mind boggling as to how so many people thought “we can do this because we are School employees” without any consideration or even the most basic of understanding of the First Amendment.

The Defendants are supposed educators. You’d think that they would have some knowledge of the First Amendment. If they don’t, what in the heck are they teaching students about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution?

That’s somewhat rhetorical because we know the answer already:

They aren’t teaching them a daggone thing.


Verified-Complaint-Stout-FILED




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