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Gay student sues school over "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" T-shirt

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Lambda Legal filed papers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio on behalf of Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior who was threatened with suspension if he wears a T-shirt bearing the message "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe."

"Schools should be in the business of educating students about First Amendment freedoms, not trampling on their right to express themselves," said Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "The school has not offered -- and cannot offer -- any legitimate reason for threatening Maverick with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he's gay."

Last April, Maverick wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or "sign of the fish," and a slogan that says "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" in observation of National Day of Silence. Principal Randy Gebhardt called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out; Maverick complied.

Over the summer, Maverick further researched his First Amendment rights, and when school resumed in the fall of 2011, he approached the school principal seeking permission to wear the T-shirt. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he wore the T-shirt.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Gebhardt outlining the legal precedent supporting Maverick's right to wear the T-shirt, to which the school district issued the response, "the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting."

In the papers filed in court today, Lambda Legal argues that the Waynesville School District violated the First Amendment and well settled legal precedent supporting students' free speech. Lambda has asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the school from further interference with Maverick’s First Amendment rights.

"I've been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight" Maverick said. "I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment."

For more information on the case, click HERE.

Read the complaint HERE.

Read the application for temporary restraining order HERE.

Read the memo in support of the application for the temporary restraining order HERE.

Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by Lisa T. Meeks with Newman & Meeks based in Cincinnati, Ohio.