A high school freshman at Exeter High School in Exeter, New Hampshire was suspended from the school’s football team for one game for expressing his belief to a fellow student that, contrary to school policy, there are only two genders, male and female.
M.P., as he is referred to in the Complaint filed on his behalf by his mother in the Rockingham Superior Court on November 4, is suing his school district, the New Hampshire School Administrative Unit 16, and his school’s vice principal, Marcy Dovholuk, for violating M.P.’s constitutional right to free speech.
The lawsuit stems from a conversation M.P. had on a bus with two students about the district’s gender identity policy, which requires students and staff to use the preferred pronouns of students who don’t identify as their biological sex. M.P. expressed his view that there are only two genders. That conversation was overheard by a third person, a female, who challenged M.P. on his views.
That second conversation on the bus with the female who confronted M.P. carried over to texts between the two, and those texts were ultimately given to the school administration, which imposed the suspension on M.P.
Vice Principal Dovholuk and the football coach, Bill Ball, imposed the disciplinary action because, in their words, M.P. was “not respecting pronouns” and needed to “respect how people identify.”
But M.P.’s views on male and female derive from his Catholic background, were spoken in private, off-campus conversations, and are constitutionally protected free speech, according to the lawsuit.
M.P. and his mother are represented in the lawsuit by Ian B. Huyett, Esq., General Counsel of Cornerstone Action, a New Hampshire state family policy council and an ally of Focus on the Family.
In response to an inquiry from The Daily Citizen about the case, Huyett told us:
“What’s most amazing about this case is that there is no specific transgender or non-binary student who our client is alleged to have offended. The student who reported our client does not describe herself as transgender or non-binary. School authorities athletically penalized him simply for expressing his general opinion that only two genders exist.
“A school is not the arbiter of student opinion, and the defendants simply had zero constitutional authority to do what they did. It’s important that this school district and others are reminded of that.”
As government entities, Exeter High School and the school district are bound by the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech contained in both the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions. With a few exceptions, a student’s speech is protected from disciplinary action by a public high school.
We will keep you apprised of developments in this case.
The case is M.P. v. New Hampshire School Administrative Unit 16.
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