LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - An eastern Kentucky school district's
anti-harassment policy constituted a "chill" on a student's free speech rights, so the student should be able to pursue nominal damages, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote, ruled that the Boyd County school district's policy effectively barred student Timothy Allen Morrison's ability to profess his Christian beliefs and opposition to homosexuality. The ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Judge David Bunning for a trial on damages.
Judge Karen Nelson Moore, joined by Judge John R. Adams, wrote that the allegation of a policy stifling free speech is enough to allow Morrison to seek damages. To make his case, the judges said, Morrison must show that the policy would "deter a person of ordinary firmness" from exercising free speech rights.
Joel Oster, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., Christian law group that represented Morrison, said the ruling has left him "ecstatic."
"It's everything we could have hoped for," Oster said. "This vindicates our client's constitutional rights."
Sharon McGowan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented gay and transgender students in the case, applauded the ruling. McGowan said the ruling recognizes that schools can't violate anyone's free speech rights, but can take steps including training to protect gay students.