Ropes & Gray Files Motion Challenging Utah Law Restricting Classroom Discussions Regarding Homosexuality

In The News
January 26, 2017

Equality Utah and two public school students, represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Ropes & Gray, filed a motion in federal court for a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of state laws that restrict classroom discussions and student clubs that include supportive speech about homosexuality in Utah public schools.

The plaintiffs’ motion, filed on Jan. 26 before Senior U.S. District Judge Dee Benson of the District of Utah, argues that the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because they discriminate based on sexual orientation by prohibiting instruction, classroom discussions, and student clubs involving supportive speech about homosexuality. The motion also argues that the student club laws violate the First Amendment free-speech rights of students, and that the sole purpose of the challenged Utah laws is to express the state’s moral disapproval of homosexuality, which the U.S. Supreme Court has held is not a legitimate basis for laws that discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation.

“These laws violate our most basic constitutional values—that every citizen has equal worth, and that the State cannot restrict what people can say about important issues in public discourse,” said appellate & Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier. “By attempting to cut off students’ ability to advocate for the equal rights of the LGBTQ community, Utah has put itself on the wrong side of these core values.”

The motion asks the court to halt enforcement of the challenged restrictions immediately while the plaintiffs’ lawsuit proceeds. At least eight states have similar laws.