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Harrison, West Virginia, judge issues preliminary injunction in middle school free speech case

By Matt Harvey, The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A Harrison County judge issued a preliminary injunction Thursday night against the Harrison Board of Education, preventing it and its schools from punishing athletes for future free speech.

Judge Thomas A. Bedell’s decision came in connection with a case in which five Lincoln Middle School girl athletes “scratched” last month during the Harrison County Middle School Championship Track Meet shot put event in a silent protest against the participation of a transgender athlete in the same event.

The coach applied an unwritten team rule, on the books for four years, that athletes who intentionally “scratch” an event won’t be rostered for that event for the next meet. They could participate in other events.

From Bedell’s ruling, it’s clear he doesn’t consider this anywhere close to a slam-dunk case for the plaintiffs. The matter “needs flushed out in the course of this litigation,” Bedell said.

But the “public interest always preponderates toward freedom of speech,” the 32-year judge indicated.

Bedell also made it clear this case is not about the gender issue, but instead is about free speech.

At least for now, the gender issue has been decided by the Fourth Circuit and “is the law of the land, in essence,” or at least until it’s challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court, he indicated.

Bedell also said that from the record made during Thursday’s nearly 3 1/2-hour proceeding, he didn’t believe there had been malice by Lincoln Middle School officials.

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