Couch v. Wayne Local School District
In April 2011, Maverick Couch, a high school student in Waynesville, Ohio, 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 GLSEN's National Day of Silence. The school principal, Mr. Randy Gebhardt, called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out; Maverick complied. Maverick went home and conducted some research and concluded he should have the right to wear the T-shirt, and wore it again the following day. He was again summoned to the principal’s office, his mother was called into the school, and was told to remove the T-shirt or face suspension; Maverick again 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. Mr. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.
In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Mr. Gebhardt outlining the legal precedent supporting Maverick’s right to wear the 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.” On April 3, 2012, Lambda Legal filed suit against the Wayne Local School District on Maverick’s behalf, arguing that the Waynesville School District violated the First Amendment and well-settled legal precedent supporting students’ free speech.
- April 2011 Maverick wears a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys and the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” to school on National Day of Silence; is threatened with suspension.
- August 2011 Maverick returns to school after summer recess and asks the school principal for permission to wear the T-shirt and is again threatened with suspension.
- January 2012 Lambda Legal sends a letter to the school, outlining Maverick’s First Amendment rights and informing them he had the right to wear the shirt.
- February 2012 The Wayne Local School District responds to Lambda Legal’s letter, saying the school principal acted within his authority and “…the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”
- April 3, 2012 Lambda Legal files federal suit against Wayne Local School District.
- April 4, 2012 Wayne Local School District agrees to permit Maverick Couch to wear his T-shirt only on GLSEN's National Day of Silence, April 20th, while the case proceeds.
- May 21, 2012 Victory! Wayne Local School District and Principal Randy Gebhardt agree to have judgment entered against them in an order affirming Maverick’s right to wear the shirt on any day he chooses, and awarding $20,000 for damages, costs, and attorney’s fees incurred.
Christopher Clark, Senior Staff, Attorney
Lisa T. Meeks of Newman & Meeks based in Cincinnati, Ohio