Assault Charges Dropped Against Principal Who Banned GSA T-Shirt

A judge has dismissed assault charges against Sequoyah High School principal Maurice Moser, who was accused of physically assaulting a student wearing a t-shirt endorsing a Gay Straight Alliance at the Tennessee school.

In September, Moser came into a classroom to bring senior Chris Sigler into his office for a meeting about his wearing the shirt despite being told not. When Sigler tried to leave the room, Mosler claims he simply stood between the student and the door to block his exit. Sigler claimed Moser grabbed him by the shoulder, pushed him back into the room and chest bumped him.

However the scuttle went down, Sigler was the ultimate victor: The ACLU got  the Monroe County school system to allow students to wear t-shirts in support of the GSA.

Did they skip Freedom of Speech in Civics class at Sequoyah High or something?

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #chrissigler #gsa #schools stories and more


  • Mr.BoPeep

    Wow you can chest bump a kid, shove him, yell in his face and not get even a slap on the wrist for this shit? Is this a principal only perk or can any random nutter walk off the street and do it too?

  • kylew

    Oh for crying out loud! America is a country crippled by its adolescent belief in absolute freedom of speech. No kid has a right to go to school in a shirt declaring “All are cunts”, so the principle that freedom of speech and dress code are well understood.

    I’m ambivalent about whether or not he should be allowed to wear a GSA shirt, but if students are allowed to wear other political shirts, then they have no complaint against him.

    It’s up to you who’s side you believe. Each is plausible. Even by the kid’s admission, he was told not to wear the shirt, and then he attempted to leave the room whilst the discussion was still continuing. Some see a victimised kid, some see another rude and rebellious teenager.

    Since when was school dress code a matter for the ACLU? That lessens my respect for them.

  • kylew

    Sorry, that said “all -insert minority- are cunts” but the board doesn’t like comments in greater than brackets

  • Hyhybt

    @Mr.BoPeep: Hard to convict without proof, and a sister hardly counts as an unbiased witness.

  • sunonthehorizon

    @kylew: Kyle it matters for the same reasons it has always mattered. It is a matter of freedom of speech, because schools are public institutions, meaning that they are funded by tax dollars. Therefore, they are an extension of the government. You are correct that freedom of speech is not absolute, but we the people have always been wary of the Government impeding speech, as that was the fundamental reason behind the first amendment. Admittedly, I haven’t brushed up on my supreme court knowledge in a little bit, but if I remember correctly there are only four instances in which the government can limit speech: obscenity, fighting words, defamation, and words that can provoke a riot; for example, yelling, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. Advocating for a GSA or wearing a tee-shirt symbolic to that end do not fall under any of those requisites. Was it wise for him to wear the shirt after being instructed not to? Probably not. Was it his legal right, protected under the first amendment to do so? Absolutely.

  • bagooka

    Moser would remove the civics class if he could, that idiot. He doesn’t want gay people learning about their rights.

  • kylew

    @sunonthehorizon: Thank you for clarifying the law. I was not aware of those exclusions, so it’s good to finally see what they are.

    This is exactly what I mean about an adolescent belief in the freedom of speech, superceding all common sense. The kid was making a point and standing up for what he believed in, and I respect that. However, the way it comes across, especially in context of his subsequent exit from the principle’s office, is that it was simply about defying authority, not expressing himself in the most effective way.

    And I’m sure that you can clarify for me – but does freedom of speech cover the written word, and is it a law that trumps all lesser regulations – ie, could the kid stand up in the middle of class and start giving a GSA lecture? Because if he could, and the law gives him the right to do so, then it’s a pathetic law.

  • sunonthehorizon

    @kylew: Your question is a good one, and gets deeper into the minutia of the law. To your first point, I wholeheartedly agree: He probably did so simply to defy authority. I think what he did probably was on the boneheaded side.
    To your second point, yes, absolutely freedom of speech has also been extended to protect written word, and trumps all other regulations. How constitutional law works, in brief, is that any law, regulation or statute, in order to be valid, must pass “constitutional muster” both “on its face” as well as “as applied” (Both are legal terms and distinction that require even deeper legal analysis. We needn’t go that far in depth). Any law that does not pass constitutional muster is invalidated, because it is contradictory to the Supreme law of the land. The purpose of the constitution, therefore, is to protect the people from government by setting limits to its authority. That’s the theory behind it.
    Now to address as to whether or not freedom of speech means that he could “stand up in the middle of class and start giving a GSA lecture;” the answer to that would be somewhat dependent upon the circumstance. I’ll try to be as brief on the point as possible: Please bare with me.
    There is a small but very important difference in the example you highlight: speech is accompanied by an action. The kid has interrupted class. The government has an interest in insuring the education of its people. The type of speech is irrelevant. He could interrupt class to talk about gardening, the Soviet Union’s decline, or GSA, but the point is he impedes the learning of his classmates and himself. The school (government) has every right and authority to limit that. What they could not do, would be to make it their limitation specific to a type of speech. Let’s say some students were allowed to interrupt class about gardening or the Soviet’s decline, but not about GSA, then that type of rule in effect would be to abridge free speech. It would not pass constitutional muster “as applied”. Because when it gets applied, it would have the same effect as simply saying you cannot talk about GSA, where other types of discussions are permitted. Keep in mind, the example isn’t exactly perfect, and I’ve somewhat simplified the discussion. This is something the supreme court has been grappling with since its inception.

  • sunonthehorizon

    @kylew: I forgot to mention: not only does freedom of speech extend to written words but it also extends to symbolic gestures such as desecration of the American flag. Such was the case in Texas v. Johnson, which is considered one of the most gut wrenching cases addressing freedom of speech. It’s also one of the most affirming supreme court cases, as to why we hold that protection so dear. Freedom of speech is meant to protect speech even when it’s vile, even when its unpopular, at a time when protection is needed most. The creators of the Constitution looked at Europe, and the effect suppression of speech by a government had. How people were punished, sometimes even executed for simply disagreeing with their rulers. It’s something, I personally feel, that we are losing the understanding of the value of in our current society.

  • kylew

    @sunonthehorizon: Ok, that makes sense. thank you. Absolutely fascinating insight into laws I’ve often heard quoted but never fully understood. So the vital question in this case, is, are all slogan t-shirts banned in the school? in which case, the principle was justified in insisting that the boy did not wear it. And I suspect that if they were not, in the light of the ACLU’s intervention, that they soon will be.

    Now you say that the fact that if the words are accompanied by an action, that they can be prevented, but if the action is merely interruption, then surely if that were justification enough to prevent free speech, it would be used all the time?

  • sunonthehorizon

    @kylew: You’re correct! And catch on quick, ha! People spend a lot of time in law school trying to piece this together, so it’s good you got it so quickly! Yes, if the school banned all types of slogan t-shirts or instituted a uniform dress code that couldn’t be arbitrarily applied, then the principle would be right. I don’t think that was the case, however. He should’ve consulted his the school board’s legal counsel, because they would have let him know.

    To your second point, any law that is meant to or has the effect of abridging one type of speech in preference of another, (minus our four exceptions) is not valid. Keep in mind, that the Constitution only applies to government, and not between private entities. For example, if this same scenario were to happen at a private, nongovernment-funded school, the child would have no legal protection or recourse. A private school can ban any speech, t-shirt, logo or whatever it wants. If the student didn’t like it, he would just have to leave the school for another. The constitution, for the most part, is only meant to protect the people from a capricious government.

  • Gorbeh

    The question of whether the kid had freedom of speech is completely unrelated. First of all I see nothing wrong in wearing a GSA shirt. “All are cunts” is way worse than a shirt showing support to an oppressed minority. Now whether or not the kid was in the wrong is another debate. The fact is that even if he had been wearing a shirt that said “All are cunts”, the principal’s response is completely unjustified. The fact that anyone would resort to physical violence over what someone was wearing (even if they were just being rebellious), much less a principal, is absolutely mortifying to me. It absolutely was assault no matter what the reason and irregardless of whether or not the student was in the wrong for the shirt. Why focus on the minutiae of the issue when the behavior of the principal is in issue?

  • B

    No. 5 · sunonthehorizon wrote, “but if I remember correctly there are only four instances in which the government can limit speech: obscenity, fighting words, defamation, and words that can provoke a riot; for example, yelling, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater.”

    The phrase “yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” meant something quite different when that example was used in a Supreme Court decision. At the time, the theaters were death traps, and if a fire started, your best chance to survive was to be the first out the door. The result was that yelling ‘Fire’ would cause a panic, with people quite likely being seriously injured or killed in the mad scramble to get out. has an example.

    A few years ago I was actually in a movie theater were there was a fire – in the projection booth. Nobody got hurt, not even the projectionist as the sprinkler went wild in his booth and quickly doused it. Everyone walked out calmly and the theater was empty before the fire department arrived. The lack of panic was due to modern building codes and safety features.

  • sunonthehorizon

    Thank you! It was just meant to be an example of riotous language. Nice insight! I’ll update my example.

  • SQHSer

    @bagooka: I attended the school, there was not a Civics class in the first place.

Comments are closed.