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Lawsuit claims Plainwell Schools suspended student for sharing religious beliefs

Plainwell Schools Free Speech Lawsuit
Posted at 5:39 PM, Jan 28, 2022

PLAINWELL, Mich. — A high school junior was suspended last fall after multiple conversations in which he allegedly spoke about his Christian beliefs with other students, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week. The student is suing to have the disciplinary mark taken off his record, and to prevent the district from taking similar alleged actions in the future.

“Everybody has the right to free speech, even those that you disagree with,” said the young man's attorney, David Kallman, of the Great Lakes Justice Center.

“What he did caused no problems at the school; he was simply having a conversation with other students about religious faith and beliefs, and that's it.”

According to Kallman, the student was disciplined for two conversations in which he spoke to other students about his Christian beliefs — one happening in a hallway at school, and another in a private text conversation. He says the texting happened off campus, during non-school hours.

The documents filed in federal court Thursday describe part of the text message exchange.

In it, he allegedly said that the "Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and in the Christian context that God created only two biological genders — man and woman."

He allegedly continued, saying that "while homosexual conduct is a sin, however, everyone is a sinner due to freewill choices, and he would pray for them 'to repent and follow Jesus.'”

“The Bible says at the end of days all will know the truth, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”

The lawsuit alleged that the other student he was speaking to began "berating" him, and calling him "many offensive names for his sincerely held Christian beliefs."

Kallman said the student, who is part of the school's marching band and football team, was also punished for not intervening when some of his band members began making racist and homophobic jokes.

“It's nothing he said, but some other students made some offensive jokes, no question... But, he didn't act fast enough to stop them, and he didn't report them,” Kallman told FOX 17 on Friday.

Kirsten Holz, an associate attorney with Levine and Levine Law, says the court will analyze exactly what was said, and in what context, during these conversations in question.

“The court is going to look at the exact wordage of what was said, like the specific words that were used, the people to whom those words were spoken, where physically the young man was located,” she explained.

She says the Supreme Court has established three main categories over the last 50 years to determine whether or not a school can restrict a student's free speech.

Supreme court web 1.jpg
The Supreme Court has established 3 main categories to determine whether or not a school can restrict a student's free speech

“Whether or not the speech is disruptive... Whether or not the speech is sexually vulgar, or obscene... and then, also whether or not the speech is contrary to the school's basic educational mission,” Holz said Friday.

The lawsuit looks to get the disciplinary mark off the student's record, and to get a declaratory judgment from the courts saying Plainwell Schools violated his constitutional rights.

They also want the courts to block Plainwell Schools from punishing other students in a similar fashion in the future.

“Right now, I'm not aware of any students, or anybody, that was upset; maybe somebody overheard something like that," Kallman said.

"But, honestly, are we raising a generation of kids that can't handle somebody saying something they don't agree with?"

FOX 17 reached out to Plainwell Community Schools Superintendent Matthew Montange for reaction to the lawsuit. He said the district has no comment at this time.

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