Pennsylvania High School Says Students Can't Form Pro-Life Club; Attorneys Respond

Pro-life group Students for Life demonstrates outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, June 28, 2012, after the high court decided in a 5-4 ruling that the controversial health care law, including the individual mandate requiring Americans to have health insurance, is valid as a tax. | (Photo: The Christian Post)

Civil rights attorneys are going after a Pennsylvania high school that did not allow a pro-life student group to form because it is too "political" and "controversial." Denying the club squelches the student's free speech rights, the attorneys say.

At Parkland High School in Allentown, several students inquired about launching a chapter of Students for Life last September but their inquiries were ignored by school administration officials, according to the Thomas More Society attorneys who are representing the students.

Elizabeth Castro, a senior, said she and others had met all of the school's requirements for starting such a club at the school but were denied "simply because we are pro-life."

Through the club, the students said they wanted 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," Castro explained.

"These situations are both frustrating and beautiful — frustrating because those in authority should know better than to censor students' expression like this, but beautiful to watch students like Liz stand so bravely in defense of life and freedom," said Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society special counsel, in an email statement to The Christian Post Thursday. 

Parkland High School's assistant principal reportedly verbally denied their request to form the club, saying that the group was too "political" and "controversial." When Grace Schairer, a junior, asked in an email on April 6 what measures they could take in order to overcome those objections, she received no response.

"The school is not only denying our right to start a group but also denying the opportunity for others at our school to learn about the greatest human rights social injustice of our time," Castro said.

The Thomas More Society has written a demand letter on the students' behalf, outlining why the school's refusal violates their rights.

"There is absolutely no question that the law protects the right of these students to form this club at their high school," said Floyd.

The school is operating under a common misconception about what is allowed and what is not. But the school's denial of the club is particularly shocking given that the school district explicitly permits students to begin clubs with "any lawful objective," she said.

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins commented, "The high school students we work with are passionate defenders of life and, oftentimes, their schools put up unnecessary and unconstitutional obstacles when they try to start Students for Life clubs."

"The school's baseless claim that the club would be too 'controversial' and 'political' is a common excuse we hear – 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 to Parkland administration from the Thomas More Society attorneys outlines how  the denial of the pro-life club is a violation the First Amendment freedoms of the students, the Federal Equal Access Act, and the school district's own stated policies.

The letter further demands that the school's administration immediately green light the student's application for official club status.

The school reportedly has a Political Science Club, a Gay-Straight Alliance, and a Fashion Club.

"Once the limited open forum is open to one noncurricular club, then all noncurricular clubs must be treated equally, even if the clubs they wish to form are religious, political, or 'controversial' in their content," the demand letter reads.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: @BrandonMShow

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