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Military School Must Salute Pro-life Free Speech
Contact: Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel, 407-875-1776, Liberty@LC.org
SARASOTA, Fla., Dec. 22, 2017 /Christian Newswire/ -- After Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA), a public charter school, responded with assurances that it will require teachers to respect the First Amendment right of pro-life citizens to speak on public sidewalks on behalf of abstinence and the rights of the unborn. However, a follow-up letter was necessary to again correct the record of false allegations by SMA staff about Liberty Counsel's clients.

Liberty Counsel represents Bill Calvin and others with the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform in Sarasota who engage members of the public, including high school students, on public sidewalks within Sarasota's legal "public forum," as is their right, regarding the Christian faith, abstinence, and the humanity of pre-born children. They do so via outreach efforts, including personal conversations, literature distribution, and the display of signs on public sidewalks as part of the Center's Abortion Awareness Project. Liberty Counsel's clients' goal is to display the humanity of preborn children, and reach current and future voters as they believe that preborn children should receive the full protection of the law, because they are human beings made in the image of God.

Since school resumed in August, there have been at least three instances of SMA employees violating Liberty Counsel's clients' protected speech rights. Sarasota Military Academy staff, in uniform, have been confiscating literature from students, and instructing them not to talk to Mr. Calvin and the others, all while SMA staff are on school time and acting in their official capacity.

Contrary to the false claims of SMA staff, Calvin and others do not "yell" at or "harass" students. Rather, they engage in personal dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, and conduct themselves appropriately. A key reason they are trying to reach high school students with the truth about abortion and abstinence is that two-thirds of such students report they are not currently sexually active, as defined by the CDC's 2015 National Youth Health Risk Behavior Survey. Each interaction by our clients with willing passersby begins with an offer of literature accompanied by a phrase like "Can I give you this?" or "Would you like this?" Our clients stand still on the sidewalk, and offer literature and a chance to talk. They do not pursue or force interaction with a person who declines the offer. Staff and students at other Sarasota schools have approached our clients and quietly thanked them for being there.

"Employees of public schools, including public charter schools like this military academy, are obligated to perform their official duties on school property, and not interfere with the First Amendment rights of others," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "The actions of Sarasota Military Academy employees here have violated not only our client's First Amendment rights, but also the rights of public school students. Students have the right to hear and receive information, without having literature confiscated by the government. Teachers have free speech rights while they are not working, but when they are, they may not attempt to shut down the speech of others with whom they personally disagree. We are pleased SMA has chosen the wiser course of action in confirming it will respect First Amendment rights," said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.