Today, Students for Life of America, with the aid of the Thomas More Society, intervened on behalf of pro-life students at Rio Rancho Middle School who have been denied the right to start a Students for Life group on campus. Read the September 18, 2018 demand letter sent by the Thomas More Society to Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Dr. V. Sue Cleveland and Rio Rancho Middle School Principal Lynda Kitts here.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement, “It is shameful that Rio Rancho Middle School, a taxpayer-funded school, has been discriminating against Students for Life for almost a full year now. The school has shamefully and disgustingly continued to throw up illegal obstacles in the way of a group of students who want to start a group to reach out to fellow students and educate them about the injustice of abortion. We strongly support the students who are fighting against their own school for their basic free-speech rights.”
Christina Coffman, Rocky Mountains Regional Coordinator for Students for Life added, “I am proud of Dylan and Isaiah’s dedication to protecting the preborn, and I appreciate the courageous stand they are taking by standing up to their own school.”
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Joan Mannix explained the problem. “Rio Rancho Middle School currently allows various non-curriculum clubs, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club, Pay It Forward Club, and Chess Club. Kitts’ only explanation to Dylan regarding her refusal to allow the club was that the group’s message would not be too controversial and not ‘fair.’ That basis for denial violates Dylan Fredette’s rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Rio Rancho Public Schools’ own policies.” Mannix continued, “Should the school deny Isaiah Fredette’s renewed request for permission to start Phoenixes for Life, that would similarly violate his constitutionally guaranteed liberties.”
Mannix stated, “It is well established that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate.” Moreover, she noted that Rio Rancho Public Schools’ own policy provides: “Education is founded on the process of inquiry and analysis, of acquiring and imparting knowledge, and of exchanging ideas. Therefore, students have the right to express opinions, to take stands, and to support causes, publicly and privately.”
Dylan Fredette wanted to start a Students for Life group and began the process in November 2017. He approached Principal Lynda Kitts about starting a group, and wrote a proposal for the club, detailing what the club aimed to accomplish. Principal Kitts claimed Dylan could not start a pro-life group because it would not be fair to pro-choice students. Of course, there is absolutely nothing Dylan nor Students for Life did that would prevent pro-choice students from starting their own group. Several weeks later, at the end of November, Principal Kitts said she did not remember saying that.
In March 2018, Dylan again tried to start a pro-life club, providing a club constitution and the name of a faculty advisor, as required by the school, to Principal Kitts. Principal Kitts never responded to this e-mail. Since that time, Isaiah, Dylan’s brother, has started as a 7th grader at the school, and wishes to continue the group, as Dylan has now graduated.
A few things are clear. First, Rio Rancho Public Schools is creating rules on the fly to justify denying a Students for Life group. Second, they are in violation of the First Amendment, as well as their own school policy, which states, “Education is founded on the process of inquiry and analysis, of acquiring and imparting knowledge, and of exchanging ideas. Therefore, students have the right to express opinions, to take stands, and to support causes, publicly and privately.” Finally, it is clear that school administrators continue to either be willfully ignorant or deliberately anti-free speech against pro-life students.
Students for Life is confident that the school will back down and allow a Students for Life group. Recent legal settlements with public high schools and colleges that sought to discriminate against Students for Life groups include victories at Parkland High School, Ball State University, and Miami University.
To read more about the ways schools stifle free-speech, read Kristan Hawkins’ op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.