ACLU Asks Court to Uphold Kentucky School’s Training Aimed at Reducing Anti-Gay Harassment
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But Agrees Earlier Policy Violated Student Free Speech Rights
ASHLAND, KY – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal court to dismiss the parts of a lawsuit aimed at shutting down a court-ordered anti-harassment training at a Kentucky school district, but agreed with the plaintiffs that the district’s earlier policy violated student free speech rights.
“The fact that some students disagree with the training doesn’t mean they get to just skip it without any consequences, just as they can’t miss literature or history classes if they disagree with the lessons,” said Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Telling students that they shouldn’t harass or attack others is a far cry from telling them what they should believe.”
The anti-harassment training is part of the settlement in a lawsuit the ACLU brought on behalf of several students who were prevented from forming a GSA club at Boyd County High School. The school district agreed to implement the training and anti-harassment policy in 2004 after a federal judge found that there was a widespread problem with anti-gay harassment in the school, where students in an English class once stated that they needed to “take all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them.”
A new lawsuit was brought by an anti-gay legal organization, which claims that the training and policy violate the religious freedom and free speech rights of students who are opposed to it. The ACLU, representing some of the former students who had formed a gay-straight alliance (GSA) club at Boyd County High School, joined the lawsuit to help defend the school’s ability to conduct the training and to support all students’ free speech rights.
“We agreed that portions of Boyd County’s anti-harassment policy went too far, and we’ve worked with ADF and the school board to create a new policy that protects students’ speech while still allowing the school to protect lesbian and gay students from harassment,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director with the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Preventing harassment doesn’t need to interfere with free speech. In fact, harassment is less likely to occur in schools where everyone’s ideas can be freely and respectfully discussed.”
In today’s motion for summary judgment, the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and the ACLU of Kentucky asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to rule that schools can require all students to attend anti-harassment training regardless of their personal beliefs about gay people.
The case is Timothy Allen Morrison, II, et al., v. Board of Education of Boyd County, Kentucky. The former GSA students are represented by Sharon McGowan and James Esseks of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and Lili Lutgens and David Friedman of the ACLU of Kentucky.
More information on the ACLU’s earlier case in Boyd County can be found on line at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles
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