A federal judge has denied a lesbian student’s request that he force a Mississippi school district to re-sponsor a prom that it canceled when the student threatened litigation if she were not permitted to wear a tuxedo and bring her lesbian partner.
Although U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson agreed that Constance McMillen had demonstrated the burden of proof that she had a likelihood of winning her case on First Amendment grounds, he denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to force the Itawamba County school district to sponsor the prom, saying that it would not serve the public interest.
Officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School had canceled the prom, saying that McMillen’s threat of litigation would have caused disruptions. The school had resisted McMillen’s demands that she be allowed to go to the prom in masculine clothes and bring her lesbian partner, saying it would create a disturbance that many would find uncomfortable.
The school reiterated this stance in a memo to IAHS Juniors and Seniors, explaining that guests “must be of the opposite sex.” The school also stated that only men could wear tuxedos and only women could wear gowns or prom dresses.
IAHS cancelled the prom after officials received a demand letter from the American Civil Liberties Union insisting that they revoke the policy, saying it violated McMillian’s First Amendment rights to free expression and make a social and political statement on her sexual orientation.
Davidson cited a number of cases, including the famous precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Tinker” case, to say that it appeared McMillian’s First Amendment rights had been violated.
But he added that McMillen had not proved that it served the “public interest” for the court to force the school district to sponsor the prom, pointing out that parents had already arranged a replacement prom that would be disrupted by the court ordering the school to get involved again.
The court also mentioned that it did not have the resources to plan a prom anyway.
Davidson will still hold a trial, but has so far not set a date.