Press Release: Cornerstone Files Free Speech Suit Against Exeter School District On Behalf of Student

Exeter, NH – A freshman student at Exeter High School, named in court documents as “M. P.,” has filed a complaint against SAU 16 and the school’s Vice Principal, Marcy Dovholuk, after they punished him with an athletic suspension for expressing his opinions on a cultural issue. The student’s suit was filed in Rockingham Superior Court on Thursday, November 4, through his attorney, Ian Huyett of Cornerstone. 

M. P., who is a believing Catholic, had an exchange with a politically progressive student on a school bus in which he affirmed that there are only two genders: male and female. The progressive student, who is not transgender, later engaged M. P. in an exchange of text messages on the issue, in which M. P. reaffirmed his views. The student then turned a copy of this text conversation over to Vice Principal Dovholuk, who confronted M. P. with printed copies of the text messages. M. P. was then subject to an athletic suspension. 

Exeter adopted a Gender Nonconforming Students policy in 2016. In addition to the policy’s provision that “[a] student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity,” it also includes a broader rule: “the intentional… refusal to respect a student’s gender identity… is a violation of this policy.” In applying this policy, the defendants have not only punished a student for expressing an opinion, but seek to compel students to use “non-binary” pronouns such as the singular pronoun “they.”

M. P. cites Article 22 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights, which protects his right to free speech. The suit also argues that the defendants had no legal ability to punish M. P. for the content of his off-campus text messages.

M. P. did not harass or demean any student, but simply expressed his views on a contentious cultural issue. The key question before the court will be if Exeter’s Gender Nonconforming Students policy, nearly identical to the policy adopted by school districts across the state, can be used to suppress the free speech rights of students who hold dissenting views.

Image: EHS Entrance by Austin Blake Grant CC BY-SA 3.0

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