October 2nd, 2023 2 Minute Read Public Filings by Ilya Shapiro, Tim Rosenberger

Amicus Brief: Parents Defending Education v. Olentangy Local School District Board of Education

The Olentangy Local School District in the Columbus, Ohio, area maintains three overlapping speech policies that punish students for expressing sincerely held beliefs about sex and gender and force them to affirm beliefs they do not hold. By the district’s own admission, the three policies require students to use classmates’ “preferred pronouns” and to otherwise refer to peers based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex. The policies likewise prohibit students from using language that is “based upon [another’s] transgender identity” and that others find “insulting,” “dehumanizing,” “unwanted,” “discomfort[ing]” or “offensive.” These speech restrictions apply both on and off campus—even to social media statements posted from a student’s bedroom.

Parents Defending Education (PDE) filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging violation of students’ First Amendment rights and parents’ Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court found that PDE had standing but ruled for the school district on the merits. Now on appeal before the Sixth Circuit, the Manhattan Institute has joined the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression on an amicus brief supporting the parents and defending student speech. We focus on the broad right to engage in nondisruptive speech that students enjoy under Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) and the prohibition on compelled speech in West Virginia v. Barnette (1943). Nor can schools issue speech codes to prevent harassment under the standards the Supreme Court set out in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), which defines harassment as pervasive conduct, not speech.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

Tim Rosenberger is a legal fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

Photo by BjelicaS / iStock


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