A high school chapter of the pro-life group Students for Life is claiming that it was censored by the administration and given less freedom than a gay rights group.
"They're clearly showing a double standard here," Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told The Christian Post last week. Hawkins accused the staff of Wilson High School in Washington State of showing favoritism to the local Gay-Straight Alliance group over the high school's SFL chapter, especially regarding flyers.
Bryce Asberg, president of the Wilson High School SFL chapter, said the flyers were just one aspect of the school's preference for the GSA. He also mentioned a struggle over a candlelight vigil and a day of silence. "I would definitely say that there's some censorship involved and trying to block our rights of free speech," Asberg said. "Our message is more controversial, but that doesn't give them grounds to block our message."
History of the Controversy
Asberg outlined the school's alleged censorship since the SFL chapter started in November 2013.
"In late November, early December, we submitted the flyers. The same week later we realized they were not approved," he recalled. The denied leaflets featured a quote from the late President Ronald Reagan – "I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born." – and a milk carton showing a baby with the word "missing" and the caption "Since Roe v. Wade 1/3 of our generation has been aborted."
The school did, however, allow GSA posters with three equations symbolizing acceptance for three types of sexual relationships (♂+♂=♥ ♂+♀=♥ ♀+♀= ♥).
"Three weeks later, a representative from the school district, some administrators, and the ASB (Associated Student Body) teacher adviser told us that the candlelight vigil would not be allowed during school hours, because it would disrupt education," Asberg reported. He found the multitude of advisers patronizing and unsettling. "They were trying to be nice and help us, but we did feel that there was at least a veiled attack on our rights."
Asberg concluded with the most recent denial – a day of silence for those who lost their lives in abortion. When the SFL chapter asked permission for this, the president explained, "We were discouraged from doing that, but the Gay-Straight Alliance was encouraged to do that because they said theirs was less political than ours would have been."
A National Struggle?
Hawkins connected this struggle in Washington State to a brief tussle with the University of Alabama earlier this month. The university delivered an apology to Bama Students for Life after removing a pro-life poster from a campus facility.
Like the poster at the University of Alabama, the flyers in Washington State "are pretty simple flyers – there are no graphic images on them, they're not extremely hard-hitting," Hawkins argued. The national SFL president argued that the posters are far from controversial. "They make you think about the issue of abortion. For them to say that they're offensive is clearly showing their bias."
"They would never try to silence a Gay-Straight Alliance group because they know the gay lobby would be all over that school," Hawkins conjectured, pointing to an alleged bias in the general culture.
She told CP that the national organization teaches local chapters to assert their rights, and reminds them that they hold a majority opinion in the United States. When students start a pro-life group, she explained, they think most people disagree because "the people who are pro-choice are going to be hateful."
Nevertheless, Hawkins was optimistic that the issue would be resolved in SFL's favor, as it was at the University of Alabama.
The Legal Position
Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel at The Thomas More Society, argued that the case was very clear-cut and decidedly in SFL's favor, if it should come to court. "Both the First Amendment and the Federal Equal Access Act ensure equal treatment" in cases like this, Breen told CP. He explained that the Federal Equal Access Act, passed in 1984, requires federal-funded secondary schools to allow all student groups the ability to have the same privileges.
"Our position is that all the student groups should be allowed to express themselves in a robust manner," Breen explained. He argued that the activities and posters Wilson High School permits for the Gay-Straight Alliance serve as a good example of what should be allowed, and that Students for Life should have the same freedoms.
"We're ready to spring into litigation mode now if that's necessary," Breen stated, but "we hope to resolve these situations without needing to go to court."