Attorneys for a Webb City High School sophomore who filed a First Amendment lawsuit against school officials are asking a federal court judge to speed up the trial setting so a decision can be made by the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year.
In a motion filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, attorneys Bill Fleischaker, Joplin, and Kenneth Choe of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, representing LaStaysha Myers, ask for a short trial to be held during the first weeks in August, completing it before Aug. 17, when classes are scheduled to resume in the Webb City R-7 School District. Ms. Myers filed the lawsuit after school officials refused to allow her to wear gay pride t-shirts supporting her friend, Brad Mathewson, who had been forced to remove similar shirts. She was sent home when she refused to change a shirt. Ms. Myers claims she should have been able to wear the shirt because she has the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. School officials claim the t-shirt was disruptive.
Under the guidelines requested in the motion, discovery would have to be completed by June 3, and all depositions done by July 1.
"In light of the fact that classes will end soon (May 18), which effectively postpones until the fall the resumption of the irreparable injury suffered by Plaintiff on account of Defendants' unconstitutional censorship of her expression."
In the motion, the attorneys say it is likely Ms. Myers will win and she will continue to suffer unless the courts grant an injunction allowing her to wear the shirts.
Fleischaker and Choe also filed a response today to school officials' motion to dismiss the case. The document noted that school officials said in their motion they had never disciplined Ms. Myers, yet when Ms. Myers' mother picked her up at school after she refused to change her shirt, Assistant Principal Jeff Thornberry said she would be "further disciplined" if she wore the shirt again.
School officials have said they will likely allow this kind of shirt to be worn during the 2005-2006 school year, but that did not suit Ms. Myers or her attorneys.
"Because, at best, Defendants will allow Plaintiff to wear her t-shirts to school during the 2006-2006 school year subject to conditions to which Plaintiff objects because they violate the First Amendment, a case or controversy remains," the response said.
School officials had indicated they would continue to stop the wearing of any shirt that might be considered disruptive during television interviews, though no such indication appeared in their motion to dismiss.
The response also says the school officials are misinterpreting the constitution by claiming that Ms. Myers would be creating a disruption by wearing a gay pride t-shirt.
"If a speaker, through her speech, disrupts the educational process," the response said, "then she may be disciplined or otherwise censored. But, if a listener, through her response, disrupts the educational process, then it is only the listener, not the speaker who may be disciplined or otherwise censored."
That is the concept known as the heckler's veto, which says that speech can be curbed if someone might react to it strongly and cause a problem. Such a concept has been struck down by the courts numerous times.