HASTINGS, Minn.—Officials at a Minnesota public school have agreed to respect the right of a middle school student to wear at school a t-shirt bearing an abstinence message. Officials at Hastings Middle School and Independent School District 200 in Hastings, Minn., had initially prohibited seventh grader Johnathon Kinney from wearing a t-shirt with the message “Virginity Rocks!” However, after being informed by Institute attorneys that the order forbidding Kinney from wearing the t-shirt violated the First Amendment, school officials withdrew the directive and agreed to apologize.
“Respecting the right to freedom of expression in the schools is essential in protecting our constitutional rights,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “I am pleased that school officials have recognized their error and have agreed to respect Johnathon Kinney’s First Amendment rights by allowing him to wear his ‘Virginity Rocks’ t-shirt to school.”
On April 26, 2010, Johnathon Kinney, a seventh-grade student at Hastings Middle School wore a t-shirt to school which bore the message “Virginity Rocks!” on the front. On the back, the t-shirt proclaimed, “I’m loving my wife and I haven’t met her yet.” Two school teachers confronted Kinney about the shirt, informing him that it was offensive and should be covered up. The school officials also warned Kinney against wearing the t-shirt to school in the future.
Kinney’s father contacted the principal, who expressed his support for the decision to prohibit Kinney from wearing the shirt to school. Kinney’s parents then turned to The Rutherford Institute for help. Concerned that the school was engaging in censorship, Institute attorneys sent a letter to school and district officials, informing them that the directive violated Kinney’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The letter pointed out that in order to censor student expression, a “school must have specific evidence from which they could reasonably forecast that disruption within the school would occur if the expression is allowed.” Institute attorneys also pointed out that simply because expression on clothing is deemed offensive by some is not enough to justify a prohibition on that expression, especially in light of the fact that the expression in question promotes abstinence, which is a standard aspect of sex education curriculum in many schools.
Nisha N. Mohammed is the press contact for the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization which provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated. This news release was originally issued on May 26, 2010.