Lawsuit claims Plainwell Schools suspended student for sharing religious beliefs

PLAINWELL, Mich. — A high school student was suspended last fall after several conversations in which he allegedly discussed his Christian beliefs with other students, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week. The student files a lawsuit to have the disciplinary mark removed from his record and to prevent the district from taking similar alleged actions in the future.

“Everyone has the right to free speech, even those you disagree with,” said the young man’s attorney, David Kallman, of the Great Lakes Justice Center.

“What he did didn’t cause any problems at school; he was just having a conversation with other students about faith and religious beliefs, and that was it.

According to Kallman, the student was disciplined for two conversations in which he spoke to other students about his Christian beliefs — one taking place in a school hallway and the other in a private text conversation. He says the texting happened off campus, during non-school hours.

Documents filed in federal court Thursday describe part of the text message exchange.

In it, he allegedly said that the “Bible teaches that homosexual conduct is sinful, and in the Christian context that God created only two biological genders – male and female.”

He reportedly went on to say that “although homosexual conduct is a sin, however, everyone is a sinner due to free will choices, and he would pray for them to ‘repent and follow Jesus’.”

“The Bible says that at the end of days everyone will know the truth, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.”

The lawsuit alleged that the other student he was talking to began “berating” him and calling him “many offensive names for his sincere Christian beliefs”.

Kallman said the student, who is on the school’s marching band and football team, was also punished for not intervening when some of his band members started making racist jokes and homophobic.

“It’s nothing he said, but some other students made offensive jokes, no doubt… But he didn’t act fast enough to stop them, and he didn’t report them,” Kallman told FOX 17 on Friday.

Kirsten Holz, associate attorney at Levine and Levine Law, says the court will analyze exactly what was said, and in what context, during those conversations in question.

“The court is going to look at the exact wording of what was said, such as the specific words that were used, who those words were spoken to, where the young man was physically located,” she explained.

She says the Supreme Court has established three main categories over the past 50 years to determine whether or not a school can restrict a student’s free speech.


The Supreme Court established 3 main categories to determine whether or not a school can restrict a student’s freedom of expression

“Whether or not the speech is disruptive…whether or not the speech is sexually vulgar or obscene…and then whether or not the speech is contrary to the basic educational mission of the school,” Holz said Friday. .

The lawsuit seeks to remove the disciplinary mark from the student’s record and seek a declaratory judgment from the courts that Plainwell Schools violated his constitutional rights.

They also want the courts to stop Plainwell schools from punishing other students in the same way in the future.

“Right now, I don’t know of any students or people who have been upset; maybe someone heard something like that,” Kallman said.

“But, honestly, are we raising a generation of kids who can’t stand someone saying something they don’t agree with?”

FOX 17 has reached out to Plainwell Community Schools Superintendent Matthew Montange to respond to the lawsuit. He said the district had no comment at this time.

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Ruth R. Culp