Court Denies Damages In Chilled-Speech Case

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The 6th Circuit denied nominal damages to a Kentucky high-school student who challenged a former Boyd County High School policy that once banned students from speaking out against homosexuality.

    In October, a three-judge panel allowed Timothy Morrison to pursue a claim for nominal damages after the school board changed its policy and rendered most of his claims moot. The court now finds that Morrison's claims for damages also fails for lack of standing.

    "This case should be over," Judge Cook wrote. "Allowing it to proceed to determine the constitutionality of an abandoned policy - in the hope of awarding the plaintiff a single dollar - vindicates no interest and trivializes the important business of the federal court."

    The school's speech code barred students from stigmatizing or insulting other students "on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation." The code was implemented in the 2004-2005 school year, after a group of students successfully sued to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance. Another group of students, led by Morrison, claimed the policy impermissibly prevented them from telling others that homosexuality is a sin, according to their Christian beliefs.

    The school board revised the policy to allow most anti-gay speech.
    In her dissent, Judge Moore said a claim for nominal damages based on formerly chilled speech presents a "justiciable controversy."

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