Student Sues Over Anti-Abortion T-Shirts


A 12-year-old student in Hutchinson, Minn., is suing his school after
officials asked him not to wear controversial anti-choice T-shirts. He
has gotten legal help from the Thomas More Law Center, a group that bills itself as "Christianity’s answer to the ACLU."

The Minnesota school is in the midst of a showdown between free speech
advocates who are right-wing Christians and school administrators who
want disruption-free classrooms. Court systems nationwide have seen
heightened caseloads in recent years as religious rights groups fight
for students to wear anti-gay and anti-abortion messaging under the
mantra of religious freedom.

The student, known only as K.B. in the lawsuit, planned to wear an
anti-abortion shirt every school day in the month of April, but school
officials repeatedly asked him to turn the shirts inside out and to
refrain from wearing them at school. The shirts were purchased from the
American Life League, which calls itself a Roman Catholic pro-life
group.

K.B.’s
shirts read, "Abortion… growing, growing, gone," "What part of abortion
don’t you understand?" and "Never Known – Not Forgotten: 47,000,000
babies aborted 1973-2008." Other shirts available
from American Life League include "The Pill Kills," "America’s Hidden
Holocaust" and "Planned Parenthood Kills Babies" — certainly
controversial and potentially classroom disruptive.

K.B.’s mother, Jeanne Ibbitson, is a single parent who describes herself as a devout Christian.

"He shouldn’t have lost his reputation as a good kid," Ibbitson told the Pioneer Press.
"He shouldn’t be known as the kid who is constantly going to the
office. They look at him as defiant now. I applaud him. He is really
shy. And it’s scary to stand up to people in authority, unless you’re a
defiant kid, which he’s not. It was hard for him to get up every day
and put the T-shirt on and go to school to try and carry on his mission
for the month."

The family is seeking "unspecified compensatory and punitive damages"
for "irreparable damages" caused by school officials’ actions. The suit
has been filed in U. S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The courts have set a precedent in cases involving Christian students
wearing T-shirts that could potentially incite classroom disruption.
Positive messaging is preferred. Last year, a suburban Chicago school
won a court case when a student wore a T-shirt that read "Be Happy, Not
Gay." The student sued on the basis of free speech and religious
expression but lost. The school said it would have allowed positive
messages such as "Be Happy, Be Straight," and the court agreed that positive speech wouldn’t be construed as disruptive.

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  • invalid-0

    So the poor kid is used by his loony mother as a pawn in her game.That’s how I read the story.Given that he is male and therefore not in possession of a uterus,abortion is not an issue that he has any concern with.Given that he is a shy kid,he certainly isn’t cruising for the attention this whole charade has drawn to him.But his mother (and how,pray tell does a devout-christian-family-values-anti-choice mother get to be SINGLE?)gets to score points for giving birth and raising such a fine soldier for Jeebus.
    Freedom of speech=/=freedom to lie.

  • invalid-0

    Just because he’s male doesn’t mean he shouldn’t care about social policy directed toward women. Just because he’s a minor doesn’t mean that the T-shirt thing was his parents’ idea.

    The sad truth? That tactic, wearing the T-shirt to school every day, would be very effective at getting students’ attention. Yes, it is disruptive and yes the administrators have a responsibility to their students’ educations, but I almost wish that the teachers would use this prompt to talk about abortion in class. The students would do better to hear a reasoned class discussion than some lying t-shirt.

  • invalid-0

    There are a number of ways a devout-christian-values-anti-choice mother could be single. Maybe her husband died. Maybe he left her because he was not as faithful. Maybe, even with her belief in family values, her husband was abusive to a point where she had to take her child away from that. Maybe she has never been married, but she was raped. Maybe she consented to premarital sex, but she found her faith much later in life. Or maybe, and we all do this, she had a moment or two of weakness and made a mistake.

    Certainly we should be concerned about this woman manipulating her SON into being a soldier for the anti-choice movement. However, we shouldn’t judge her lifestyle or the choices that she has made. Most certainly, we shouldn’t mock their faith – Jeebus or otherwise.

  • http://feministblogproject.wordpress.com invalid-0

    The students probably would have benefitted from a class discussion, but I don’t imagine many teachers would be willing to put their careers on the line to have that discussion. At least, not at the high school level. I remember that in my school, social studies courses would have debates about just about any subject BUT abortion. It’s untouchable, and I think that’s largely because if its intersection with religious belief. I think a lot of teachers would be afraid to bring it up. Which is sad, but I don’t judge them for it.

  • invalid-0

    Have to agree – no WAY his teachers could discuss this subject. And if he’s 12, he’s in middle school or elementary school. It’s a completely taboo subject for teachers – in many places it’s against the law to discuss …. thanks in part to abstinence only funding.

    I also think he has a right to wear the shirt.

    Our rights come with corresponding responsibilities – like the responsibility to educate our kids to be able to think clearly and have a civil discourse.

  • invalid-0

    I agree with 100%prochoice. He has a right to wear the shirt just as much as he has the right to wear a pro-choice shirt. Misleading and judgmental or not,wearing “Pill Kills” and “PP kills babies” shirts is free speech. We cannot logically say that the pro-choice message is the only message that deserves to be protected by free speech. And being anti-choice is not the same as being anti-gay or racist. Rallying against a 12-year-old expressing his anti-choice views on a t-shirt gives the other camp fodder against us. Suppressing opposing viewpoints is anti-first amendment and anti-American.

  • http://feministblogproject.wordpress.com invalid-0

    Actually, I think misleading shirts are incredibly inapprorpiate on a school campus. Schools are a place for learning accurate information. And if anyone, be it a student or teacher, is in some way distributing inaccurate information, the school needs to stop that.

    Yes, schools also need to teach things like critical thinking and fact-checking, but above all they have a responsibility to ensure that their students are obtaining correct, non-misleading information from anyone else during school hours.

  • invalid-0

    I wonder how Justice Thomas, who publicly stated during the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” fiasco that students have no First-Amendment rights, would weigh in on this one. The Thomas More Law Center is apparently pretty well funded, so maybe we’ll eventually find out.

  • invalid-0

    Why do you ass-u-me that he is a “pawn” for his mother? Are his shirts stating an untruth? Intellectual honesty people it doesn’t hurt. I’m quite sure if he was wearing a pro-gay or Obama shirt you wouldn’t be concerned. Liberals worship the mantra of free speech and abortion. Guess what? That mantra applies to those who disagree with liberal causes. Where’s the ACLU? Weren’t his free speech rights violated. Liberalism…so easy to refute.

  • invalid-0

    You make a lot of silly generalizations about liberals here, I would take the time to educate you,but your attitude implies you would rather cling to your stereotypes. To answer your question, yes the shirts were stating untruths (hmm,just like crisis pregnancy centers), plus they were causing a disruption.

  • invalid-0

    I think any of you stating the T-shirts are full of lies:

    A) Don’t know what you are talking about. The shirts are accurate in message. Who can argue that abortion doesn’t kill?
    B) Are missing the point.

    Regardless of whether you agree with what the T-shirt said or think the students motives were suspect…he has the right to wear the shirt without being signaled out as if he has done something wrong. It would also be beneficial for you to note that the ACLU and other groups specialize in spreading misinformation, half truths and promolgate suppressing the free speech of virtually any person or group that doesn’t share their views. Freedom of speech is for propenents on both side of an argument…not just one.

  • invalid-0

    at school, you shouldn’t complain if you are “singled out”. IMHO: This boy is not fighting for his personal free speech rights as much as for his right to polarize his fellow students.

    I remember some years ago when a girl who wore a shirt stating “Someday, a girl will grow up to be President” was disciplined for it by school authorities. It was definately less disruptive than the anti-abortion shirts-except in the view of some people offended by the notion a girl could grow up and someday hold the highest elected office in the land.

    Now,really, claiming the ACLU and related groups “spread misinformation, half truths” and suppress…”the free speech of everyone who doesn’t share their views” is in and of itself misinformation.

    Lastly, the shirts bearing the message “PP Kills Babies” and “The Pill Kills” are most definately inaccurate.

  • invalid-0

    I think if I were the school administrator, I would simply outlaw wearing “message” t-shirts at all. Plain ones, ones with cartoon characters, rock bands, etc., fine. Political or religious ones, NO.

    I know 12-year-olds are more sophisticated today, but they still don’t need to be embroiled in debates over religion and politics that are past their maturity levels. Most of them (left or right) are simply parroting what their pastors, parents, or other significant role-models have told them.

    The fact that the kid had to drag himself to wear the shirts tells me his mama was pressuring him, and I agree with the poster who felt that he was being used to spread his mama’s message.

    • http://myspace.com/saynathespiffy invalid-0

      I know 12-year-olds are more sophisticated today, but they still don’t need to be embroiled in debates over religion and politics that are past their maturity levels. Most of them (left or right) are simply parroting what their pastors, parents, or other significant role-models have told them.

      As someone who was until fairly recently a minor and is in her last year of being a teen, I’m gonna have to disagree. Maybe most of them parrot their parents, but the ones who care enough to express themselves that much probably don’t. I had an interest in politics and religion at a young age, and while I did (and still do) agree with my parents on most things, it wasn’t because I was copying them. I don’t think it’s right to assume that these things are “past their maturity levels”.

      As for the shirt… I’m divided. On one hand, the kid is blatantly lying to his peers and the shirt is offensive and creates a hostile learning environment. Plus… It’s disruptive and… I’m sort ofcontradicting myself here, but since he hasn’t even gone through puberty and has no experience with human sexuality (and NO experience being a female), I do doubt that he knows what he’s talking about.

      Then again, free speech is important, not just as an essential component of freedom and a basic human right, but as a tool to figure out who the stupid people are. He should be able to express himself, as misinformed as he may be is. But… I don’t think his peers should have to suffer through it, and I think it creates a hostile learning environment, so… no, he probably shouldn’t be allowed to wear the shirts to school.

  • http://www.myspace.com/saynathespiffy invalid-0

    That shirt in the picture is ridiculous. Even without the fact that it’s message ignores the fact that Planned Parenthood is also the largest provider of services directed toward prevention of unwanted pregnancy. And the fact that they provide all kinds of sexual and reproductive healthcare at low cost and sometimes for free. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: That place does more to prevent abortion in a single day of teaching sex ed. and giving out contraception than those protestors could do in a lifetime of screaming at or lying to women.

    “The largest abortion chain”? That makes them sound like a fast food place. (Another attempt at implying that women who have abortions do so on a whim and couldn’t possibly understand what they’re doing?)