When pro-life students at Parkland High School challenged their school after administrators denied them their right to start a Students for Life group, they didn’t think a lawsuit would be necessary.
Parkland HS did reply to the demand letter that our attorneys at the Thomas More Society sent in May. But they responded with conditions that were unacceptable (and still unconstitutional), denying Liz and Grace their First Amendment rights.
So the students and our attorneys at the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit today, which demands that the school allow the pro-life students to have their Students for Life group and be treated the same as every other student in the school.
This is pro-life discrimination and it’s not only happening at Parkland HS. Fresno State, Colorado State University, Cal State San Marcos – these are only a few of the legal issues SFLA has been involved in this semester where administrators deny constitutionally-protected rights to pro-life students.
“Holding pro-life views and wanting to create a culture of life on campus is not grounds for the blatant discrimination shown by school administrators,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “It is our hope that Parkland High School swiftly allows the Students for Life at the school the same rights granted to every other group on campus.”
In the fall of 2016, Elizabeth tried to go through the standard process of starting at Students for Life group at her school. The assistant principal said the group needed an advisor and one was found soon after but subsequently withdrew. In March of 2017, the Trojans for Life found a new advisor and submitted their application, which was verbally denied by the assistant principal, who deemed the group too “political” and “controversial.” On April 6th, Elizabeth sent an email to the assistant principal, where she tried to find out what could be done so that the Students for Life group could exist alongside all the other school clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliance, the Chess Club, and the Fashion Club. No response was received from the school.
SFLA’s attorneys at the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to the school and the school district, challenging the administrators’ denial of the club as a violation of the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Society asked for the school to approve the club, giving it full access to the school’s established expressive forum, equal to all other clubs.
In response, the district said it would approve the club—but only if Elizabeth and Grace changed the club’s mission, abandoned certain activities, and gave up their rights to fundraise. Far from treating Trojans for Life equally, these are demands that no other clubs are required to meet.
“The school is treating us like second-class citizens because we want to create a culture of life and be a positive influence to our peers,” said Grace Schairer, who will be a senior this coming fall at Parkland High School. “We want to educate our fellow students about abortion and at the same time be a visible resource for our peers facing unplanned pregnancies. The school has made it clear that it will not allow us to have this type of club, so we decided to file the lawsuit. We are hoping for a quick resolution so Trojans for Life can hit the ground running at the start of the fall semester, along with all the other clubs at Parkland High School.”
The Thomas More Society’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with assistance from local co-counsel Christopher G. Sweet of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, Inc., asks for the court to order Parkland School District to approve Trojans for Life with the rights and privileges granted to all other clubs.
“Parkland’s initial denial and later attempt to impose extra requirements on Liz and Grace’s club are a far cry from the law’s requirement that schools treat student clubs equally in every respect,” said Jocelyn Floyd, special counsel for Thomas More Society. “We hope that the court will quickly recognize the illegal and unconstitutional way the school has treated Liz and Grace and require Parkland High School to uphold their rights under both the First Amendment and Equal Access Act.”
Have you had a problem starting your Students for Life club at your school? We can help! Contact us at [email protected].