Thomas More Society and Students for Life Call for Respect of Students' First Amendment Rights
Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312-422-1333, firstname.lastname@example.org
FARGO, N.D., April 8, 2015 /Christian Newswire
/ -- Fargo School District No. 1 is under fire for unconstitutional discrimination against pro-life students at two high schools. Superintendent Jeff Schatz has received a demand letter from the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, on behalf of students Brigid O'Keefe of Fargo North High School, Katie McPherson of Davies High School, and Students for Life of America. The letter charges that the district has violated the First Amendment rights of pro-life students at the schools by denying them permission to form high school pro-life clubs.
"Public schools are required by law to treat all student groups equally," said Jocelyn Floyd, Associate Counsel of Thomas More Society. "However, the school district and administrators at Fargo North and Davies High Schools are treating pro-life students as second class citizens, forcing them to abide by a policy that was designed to protect students from exploitation by businesses, not to censor the students' own free speech."
Davies High School sophomore Katie McPherson has been trying to start a pro-life club since the beginning of the school year. For seven months, the school administration has refused to approve the club application or assign a room for the group's meetings.
Fargo North sophomore Brigid O'Keefe found a faculty advisor and submitted her application to start a pro-life club in February. Her application was denied, following extensive questioning – even about personal religious affiliations - by school administrators. After the students asked for reconsideration, the administrators turned the matter over to the school district.
At that point, the district consolidated the two applications and made a decision binding on both schools, opting to classify the pro-life clubs as "outside agencies" rather than school clubs. This means that the pro-life clubs cannot use the school names in their identity, cannot host events onsite, and cannot promote the club or its message at their schools.
The district's application of "outside agencies" classification is based on a District Solicitation Policy intended to regulate advertising by private businesses. "This is a clear misapplication of a policy that was never intended to limit students' speech on significant human rights issues facing their generation," added attorney Floyd.
Other non-curricular clubs exist at both high schools, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, gay/straight alliances, debate teams and a chess club, making the administration refusal to allow school pro-life clubs appear even more discriminatory.
"I started a book club last fall and had no problem getting approved. But when my friends and I applied to start a pro-life club, the administrators wouldn't approve our application as a student organization," explained O’Keefe. "We want to share with our peers the pro-life message of respect for all people at any stage, and make a positive impact on our community. But because the school won't allow us to be an official school club, we can't."
"Denying high school students the opportunity to start a club because it promotes the pro-life message is outright discrimination," said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. "Because administrators have refused to allow students at Fargo North or Davies to start their pro-life clubs and educate their peers on the tragedy of abortion, Brigid, Katie, and their pro-life classmates have had to seek assistance from attorneys at Thomas More Society to get their clubs off the ground."
The Thomas More Society requests a reversal of the district decision and prompt approval of the student pro-life clubs. The demand letter states that district's refusal to officially recognize the pro-life clubs as proper student organizations constitutes a violation of students' rights under both the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The law clearly mandates that all students who wish to form non-curricular clubs must be treated equally, even if the clubs they wish to form are religious or political.Click here to read the Thomas More Society demand letter to Fargo School District No. 1
To speak with a representative of Students for Life of America, Fargo North High School student Brigid O'Keefe, or Davies High School student Katie McPherson, contact Kristina Hernandez, email@example.com
To interviews with attorney Jocelyn Floyd of the Thomas More Society, contact Tom Ciesielka, firstname.lastname@example.org
, 312.422.1333About the Thomas More Society
Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm that exists to restore respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, the Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. www.thomasmoresociety.org
About Students for Life of America
Students for Life of America is dedicated to ending abortion by educating students about the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide; identifying pro-life student leaders; equipping student pro-lifers with the training, skills and resources to be effective and successful; and promoting student activity to other local, college and national organizations. www.studentsforlife.org