Students for Life in 1st Amendment Battle with Washington State High School
The Students for Life of America (SFLA) affiliate at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Washington claims it was refused permission to hang its pro-life message posters in the school. They claim the administration gave as its reason for refusal the fact that school policy only permits posters that “do not offend staff or students, put others down if they have a different belief/opinion, or otherwise cause disruption.”
According to SFLA, Bryce Asberg, founder and president of Wilson Students for Life (WSFL), and his group selected two posters from the SFLA website to promote its club last fall. The first read “Since Roe v. Wade 1/3 of our generation has been aborted,” with a picture of a milk carton and the word, “missing” above the photo of a baby. The second poster contains a quote from President Ronald Reagan: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born.”
Asberg states his group asked the administration’s permission to hang the posters in accordance with school policy but was refused because the posters supposedly violated the policy regarding “controversial” material. According to SFLA, the administration said the posters would violate the school’s policy because they promote a message rather than solely promoting the group’s meetings.
SFLA reports that the administrated allowed the Wilson Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) to hang flyers promoting homosexual relationships with conjoined male symbols and conjoined female symbols with the caption, “Love knows no limits.”
WSFL states after it was denied permission to display its posters, school administrators met with Asberg’s group to “give them advice” on how to best run their club. Asberg said he felt his group was encouraged to host events after school, while other groups were allowed time during the school day.
For example, Asberg said that while GSA is permitted to hold a Day of Silence during the school day, the pro-life WSFL was discouraged from doing so since their identical event would be “too controversial.”
The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit Chicago-based law firm that seeks to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty, sent a letter to the principal of Wilson High School, demanding that the school both end its censorship of and hostility toward WSFL, actions which violate the federal Equal Access Act.
According to the letter, “Schools may not subject a pro-life club to any conditions that do not apply to all other non-curricular clubs. Placing requirements on the posters, leaflets, or announcements of a pro-life group that differ from those for other groups is unlawful differential treatment.”
“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” said Peter Breen, Vice President and Senior Counsel of the Thomas More Society. “Wilson High School’s current policy allows administrators to censor any messages they deem ‘offensive’—in this case, any pro-life message—while allowing other groups broad freedom of speech.”
“The administration is violating the rights of the students involved in Wilson Students for Life, who do not lose their constitutionally protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse door,” added Breen.
Kristan Hawkins, President of SFLA, said, “The Wilson High School administration cannot be allowed to trample on the constitutional rights of Wilson Students for Life. Our pro-life students will not accept their right to free speech being taken away.”
“Sadly, this case shows that viewpoint discrimination is alive and well in today’s schools and that administrators think they can still get away with it,” Hawkins added. “Students for Life of America is proud to stand with Wilson Students for Life to demand that the Wilson High School administration reverse their unjust decision and give equal treatment to all students and student groups, regardless of their views on abortion.”
“Wilson Students for Life is passionate about the pro-life movement,” stated Asberg, “and we will continue to stand for life in our community. We simply desire to be allowed to express our views.”
As Breitbart News reported Tuesday, SFLA won a First Amendment victory in Alabama when the University of Alabama apologized to Bama Students for Life, reversing its decision to remove the pro-life group’s display on campus because an administrator deemed it “offensive.”
In response to Breitbart News' request for comment, Shannon McMinimee, General Counsel of the Tacoma School District, said that WSFL “has been allowed to display posters for the entire year since the club was formed. Any allegation that they were not allowed to display posters at any point is false.”
Asked by Breitbart News about the two specific posters from the SFLA website referenced by Asberg, McMinimee replied, “I cannot speak to any posters that I have not seen. But I can assure you that there are 30 posters up at the school, which reflect that the school administration believed that those posters met appropriate criteria.”
“Some of those 30 posters include ones that would likely be considered to be controversial or offensive to some people (including posters with depictions of fetuses and embryos),” she added. “They are up because they were determined to not be disruptive, obscene, or any other category of speech that is not permissible in the public school setting.”
Hawkins, however, told Breitbart News, “After asking for permission to hang the flyers, the school told him [Asberg] he was not allowed to put up the two pro-life flyers from our website because those were deemed ‘controversial.’"
"The current posters they reference are up were still only approved after forced alterations -- the school required the group to remove the phrase, 'Abortion Breaks Tiny Hearts,' from the fetal development flyers," Hawkins added. "So although they are talking about the students' rights to put up the posters being respected, censorship is still an issue."
At issue is also a diaper drive that WSFL has attempted to hold at the school and for which the group could not gain approval.
"As of today, the Prolife group has been given permission to do every activity they have requested," McMinimee told Breitbart News. "They sought and received approval to hold a diaper drive, though to my knowledge they have not held it."
Hawkins, however, said Asberg and his group only found out Wednesday that the diaper drive was approved.
"That approval comes a week after our legal letter was sent to them," she said. Hawkins said the group can't hold a diaper drive just one day after gaining approval, as it involves planning and advertising.
"The school continues to quote a completely different policy in their media interviews than the students were given in their meeting," Hawkins continued. "They continue to dodge the issue of these two posters specifically being denied. Moreover, now they're trying to pretend that they denied the posters because the posters looked like school speech, which is another entirely new argument that was never mentioned to the students earlier and never given as a reason to reject the posters. Instead the students were told their posters might 'offend' someone--which is constitutionally impermissible viewpoint discrimination."
“Representatives of both Wilson High School and the Tacoma school district have been involved at every step in the restriction of the free speech rights of the members of Wilson Students for Life,” said SFLA attorney Breen in a statement. “The facts show that Wilson Students for Life presented their two posters for approval to a Wilson High School administrator, who represented to the students that he would be taking them to the Tacoma school district for consideration. That same administrator later conveyed the district’s rejection of the posters to the students.”
Breen said the representations made Wednesday by McMinimee to news media “that no restriction of free speech has been made by Wilson High School and the Tacoma school district are false.”