Ohio student settles lawsuit over 'Jesus is Not a Homophobe' shirt for $20,000

OHIO — WaynesvilleHigh School junior Maverick Couch will now be allowed to wear his “Jesus is Nota Homophobe” T-shirt to school whenever he chooses, following a settlementformalized Monday in federal court.

Couch’s mother sued the school on his behalf after Couch had severaldiscussions with Principal Randy Gebhardtquestioning whether the shirt was appropriate to wear in school, SuperintendentPatrickDubbs said. Several students approached Gebhardtwith their concerns about the shirt, Dubbs said.

Couch voluntarily agreed to turn the shirt inside out when approached byGebhardt, Dubbs said. However, according to Lambda Legal attorneys, Couch wasthreatened with suspension if he chose to wear the shirt.

The settlement provides Couch $20,000 for damages, costs and legal fees.In addition, Couch may wear the shirt to school anytime he chooses. The $20,000will be covered by Wayne Local Schools’ insurance policy.

Dubbs said the lawsuit, filed in April, came as a surprise.

“I would even question the tactics used because we were never told wewere being sued,” Dubbs said. “Our feeling was this never had to go to federalcourt. All of our actions all along, once we became aware of Lambda Legal, werethat we never wanted to go to court.”

After receiving the letter, the school’s attorney replied back to LambdaLegal that it was within the school’s right to prohibit Couch from wearing theT-shirt because “the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in natureand therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

Although the superintendent may not have agreed with the lawsuit, LambdaLegal—a gay rights organization?—believes legal justice has been served.

“We’re very happy for Maverick and all LGBT students in Ohio,” Couch’sattorney, Christopher Clark, said in a press release. “If school officials hadany doubt before, it’s clear now: First Amendment rights apply to all studentson every day of the year, and efforts to silence LGBT youth will not gounchallenged.”

The outcome allowed Couch to achieve what he wanted to in the firstplace.

“I just wanted to wear my shirt,” Couch said in the press release. “Theshirt is a statement of pride, and I hope other students like me know that theycan be proud, too.”

Dubbs said the school’s dress code policy will remain the same. Thepolicy is vague intentionally, he said, because the school treats everysituation on a case-by-case basis.

By Nikki McGee, SPLC staff writer