EXETER, New Hampshire – A New Hampshire student is suing his high school, Exeter High School, for violating his right to free speech and religious beliefs after being disciplined for stating there are only two genders.
An Exeter High School freshman, who is also a practicing Catholic and football player, was suspended from school sports after he affirmed the Catholic Church’s teachings on gender during a private conversation with another student.
The student identified as “M.P.” in the lawsuit, received a one-game suspension for violating the school district’s transgender student policy.
The student made the comments on a school bus and then later in a text exchange with another student off school grounds.
The student’s attorney, Ian Huyett of the Manchester-based Cornerstone Policy Research, said his client is seeking permanent relief from the school policy under protections for free speech and religious belief in the state constitution.
Huyett said the student has the constitutional right to hold the belief that there are only two genders.
“He in fact denied, and will continue to deny, that any person can belong to a gender other than that of ‘male’ or ‘female’” the lawsuit says.
“As the United States Supreme Court has said, students do not check their First Amendment Rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Huyett.
“In New Hampshire,” he added, “we have a strong tradition of our state supreme court holding that our state constitutional protections are more protective of individual liberties than the corresponding federal right.”
Cornerstone is a Christian advocacy non-profit based in Manchester and founded by conservative politician and activist Karen Testerman. According to Cornerstone, M.P. did not target or bully any transgender student with his speech. Instead, he was punished by Assistant Principal Marcy Dovholuk after he had a private conversation with another student.
M.P. had an exchange with a progressive student, who is described as not being transgendered, on a school bus. During the conversation, M.P. relayed his belief informed by Catholic teaching that there are two genders, male and female.
This exchange was followed by a conversation between the two students over a text messaging app. That’s when the progressive student then got Dovholuk involved.
“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,” according to the complaint.
Dovholuk suspended M.P. from athletics because of this conversation.
Exeter adopted a Gender Nonconforming Students policy in 2016 that states in part, “[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.”
District Superintendent Dave Ryan released a statement on the matter noting that the district had only just learned of the lawsuit on Nov. 9 and is in the process of reviewing it with legal counsel.
“We will be able to share a statement once we have completed that review,” Ryan said.
Huyett says he expects there will be more lawsuits to come in New Hampshire on the issue because so many public schools have adopted policies similar to the one being challenged.
Huyett’s legal fees in the case are being fully funded by the Cornerstone Policy Research, a nonprofit organization founded by 2020, and now 2022, New Hampshire Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Testerman.
Testerman said she founded Cornerstone because too many New Hampshire residents with Christian values were underrepresented in legal and political matters. She said what happened to Huyett’s client is a prime example.
“It’s disturbing to have schools trying to control people’s thoughts by instituting this propaganda through alphabet policies,” she said.
“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,” Cornerstone said in a statement.