Last fall, senior Elizabeth Castro and junior Grace Schairer attempted at Parkland High School to start a Students for Life club. Parkland already has a gay-straight alliance club, a political science club, a fashion club, a chess club, and other student-led groups.
According to Students for Life of America, last fall senior Elizabeth Castro and junior Grace Schaier applied for a pro-life club at Parkland High School using the standard process. When the original required faculty adviser withdrew, the students found another adviser and submitted their application, only to be verbally denied by the assistant principal, who claimed the pro-life group would be too “political” and “controversial.”
Castro subsequently sent an email to the assistant principal, noting that other groups – such as the Gay Straight Alliance, the Multi-Cultural Leadership Club, the Political Science Club, and the Fashion Club – were also in existence, but received no response.
“We met all the requirements of Parkland High School to start a club at the school and were denied simply because we are pro-life,” said Castro. “The school is not only denying my right to start a group but denying the opportunity for others at my school to learn about the greatest human rights social injustice of our time.”
Castro says the purpose of the club is to “create a life-affirming culture at our school, educate our peers on the issue of life, hold diaper drives to support pregnant and parenting students, and become a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
A demand letter from the Thomas More Society to Parkland High School principal James E. Moniz II, assistant principal Jude Sandt, and superintendent Richard T. Sniscak states:
Parkland High School’s refusal to permit Elizabeth and Grace to create a pro-life club constitutes a violation of their rights under both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the federal Equal Access Act (“EAA”). Additionally, this denial violates Parkland School District’s own policies regarding student organizations.
“Students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gate,” the letter continues. “Accordingly, a school may not permit some students to organize and express themselves on particular topics while forbidding others the same right—this creates an atmosphere where only ‘approved’ speech is permitted and violates the First Amendment as a content-based restriction.”
“There is absolutely no question that the law protects the right of these students to form this club at their high school,” says Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society special counsel, in a statement. “This administration’s denial of a pro-life club is especially surprising, because this district’s policy expressly allows students to form clubs with ‘any lawful objective.’”
Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins says her organization has often experienced schools putting up “unnecessary and unconstitutional obstacles” when students attempt to start pro-life clubs.
“The school’s baseless claim that the club would be too ‘controversial’ and ‘political’ is a common excuse we hear,” she adds. “And it’s always infringing on the First Amendment rights of pro-life students, treating them as second-class citizens because they happen to want to educate their peers on the horrors of abortion and help pregnant and parenting students at their school.”
The letter from Thomas More Society demands that Parkland High School immediately approve the application for the Students for Life club.
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