A conservative legal advocacy group says a Wisconsin state agency is illegally threatening to revoke the license of a school counselor for comments she made about gender identity at a rally.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on Wednesday told the state’s teacher licensing agency that its investigation into counselor Marissa Darlingh violated her First Amendment protections and state law. The dustup comes as schools across the country grapple with their response to shifting norms around gender identity.
The investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction centers on a profanity-laced speech Darlingh made during a feminist rally in April at the state capitol, according to a letter WILL sent to the department.
“I oppose gender ideology ever entering the walls of my school building,” Darlingh said in her speech.
Identifying herself as a Milwaukee elementary school counselor, Darlingh said over her “dead f**king body will my students be exposed to the harms of gender identify ideology.” Darlingh said her life’s purpose is to serve and protect children, and that she would not allow any of her students to transition socially or medically.
Darlingh was attending the Sisters4Sisters event, according to WILL. The event was organized by feminists concerned that social acceptance of transgender people and policies meant to support them are undermining women’s rights.
She also cursed those advocating for students to have “unfettered access” to hormone treatments, which some medical experts have advocated for transgender children.
“F**k transgenderism!” Darlingh exclaimed.
Transgender people have become increasingly visible and medical associations have advocated they be provided treatment affirming their gender identities. However, schools have faced scrutiny and legal action as they’ve pursued policies intended to accommodate transgender students.
Parents in Wisconsin have threatened lawsuits against schools for investigating children who refused to use the preferred pronouns of a classmate. The state has also seen lawsuits about bathroom access of transgender students. More recently, Florida has passed legislation critics say unfairly targets transgender students.
A week after the event, the state Department of Public Instruction sent Darlingh a letter saying it had opened an investigation into whether proceedings would begin to revoke her license over allegations of “immoral conduct.” The letter, obtained by WILL, said a community member had informed the department about her speech.
The department told Darlingh in the letter that she had the opportunity to respond or voluntarily give up her license.
“Your threat to revoke Ms. Darlingh’s license for her public speech is as clear ofa First Amendment violation as one can imagine,” Luke Berg and Lucas Vebber, WILL attorneys, wrote in their response to the department. “If you do ‘initiate educator license revocation proceedings,’ we can assure that you will face a federal lawsuit.”
The attorneys wrote that Darlingh declined to surrender her license and that her speech did not amount to “immoral conduct.” Darlingh does not use profanity in the classroom, the attorneys wrote, saying the department doesn’t “initiate license revocation proceedings for immoral conduct every time a teacher uses profanity when speaking on their own time, even in a publicly accessible forum.”
Berg told Newsweek that WILL hopes the department will drop the threat to revoke her license.
Newsweek has reached out to the department for comment.
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