A high school principal in Spotsylvania, Virginia, about an hour and a half outside of Washington, DC, received a demand letter today from the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, on behalf of senior Maddie Sutherland and Students for Life of America, charging that his denial of a pro-life club at the school is unconstitutional and must be reversed.
Courtland High School principal Mr. Larry Marks illegally denied and delayed the pro-life club that Maddie has been trying to start since the beginning of the school year.
“It is unfortunate that many pro-life high school students have faced resistance from hostile school administrators,” said Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins. “Thanks to passionate pro-life students like Maddie who want to help educate their peers on the tragedy of abortion, and attorneys like those at Thomas More Society, we are able to get these needed pro-life clubs off the ground. Pro-life groups have every right to exist along with all other clubs at schools.”
Maddie had secured an advisor for her club, filled out the application, and presented it to the principal in September. On October 6, the principal wrote Maddie’s advisor a letter denying her pro-life club on the grounds that the club does not “bear a clear relationship to the regular school curriculum” and also noting a minor technical deficiency – that she had failed to include by-laws along with the proposed club’s constitution.
Maddie resubmitted her application on October 24 with by-laws. As for the proposed club’s alleged lack of any link to the school curriculum, the application form itself concedes that the supposed requirement is not applicable to all groups – instead it asks students to explain the link “if applicable.” Furthermore, the “requirement” was clearly was not enforced for the numerous other non-curricular clubs that the school allows, including an equestrian club, lacrosse club, environmental club, book club, multicultural club, and Future Business Leaders of America. Selectively enforcing this “requirement” against Maddie and her group is obvious discrimination.
Having not heard back from the principal for two weeks after resubmitting her application, Maddie went to his office on November 7 to inquire about its status. However, Mr. Marks further delayed giving approval for the club, telling her only that he would call her back to his office sometime this week to “fix things.”
“Even though I had found a faculty advisor for our pro-life club and submitted all the necessary paperwork that the school required, Mr. Marks wouldn’t approve our pro-life club,” said Maddie Sutherland. “Abortion is the greatest violation of human rights in our time and I believe the pro-life message deserves a voice at my school.”
“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” said Jocelyn Floyd, Associate Counsel of the Thomas More Society. “By denying Maddie’s pro-life group on the grounds that it is not tied to the school’s curriculum, while allowing other non-curricular groups such as an equestrian club and lacrosse club, Courtland High School is violating their students’ First Amendment rights. Maddie and her fellow students have the constitutional right to express their pro-life views. As the Supreme Court has consistently emphasized, students do not lose their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse gate.”
Thomas More Society’s letter states that Mr. Marks’ denial of the pro-life club, even though other non-curricular clubs exist at the school, violates the Federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment, and requests that Mr. Marks approve Maddie’s application for a pro-life club at Courtland High School by November 20.
Letter from Thomas More Society to Courtland High School is available here.
Update (Nov 17)
Last Friday, November 14, just four days after SFLA and the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to the principal at Courtland High School on behalf of Maddie Sutherland, a senior who was denied the opportunity to the start a pro-life club, the school board released a statement saying that that have approved the club and that Maddie can start it immediately! It’s a huge win for Maddie, SFLA and the Thomas More Society. Maddie had every right to start a pro-life club and with our help and that of our attorneys, we were able to uphold her free speech rights and give her fellow peers the opportunity to hear the pro-life message.
Fox5 News in Washington, DC even led their 6pm news with the story. Congrats to Maddie!