Students for Life Fights 1st Amendment Battle in CT High School
Students for Life of America (SFLA) states that the members of its student club at the public high school in Branford, Connecticut have been censored and denied their First Amendment rights.
The student organization, led by Sam Bailey-Loomis, president and founder of Branford High School Students for Life, asserts that since February of 2013, the school’s principal, Lee Panagoulias, and other administration members have attempted to restrict the club in ways that they have not restricted other student organizations.
SFLA states on its website:
Sam’s principal, Lee Panagoulias, and other administration members have attempted to censor and limit the effectiveness of the Students for Life club at their public school, telling them they could not have life-like fetal models on their education table and making it difficult for them to form and sustain the club. In the past few weeks, Mr. Panagoulias denied Sam and her club the ability to invite others to join the group in the form of clip boarding and handing out literature to students during lunch. The school has also told Branford High School Students for Life that they can only host events after school, a restriction not imposed on other student groups.
According to SFLA, Bailey-Loomis met with her principal to request permission to host events and inform other students about her club, using the Branford High School Student Handbook as a guide to what would be permitted of any student clubs and organizations within the school.
Bailey-Loomis said Panagoulias said he would “think about it,” but then postponed subsequent meetings with her. Finally, Bailey-Loomis’ club discovered they would not be permitted to distribute pro-life literature, use clipboards to collect the information of interested students, or set up an information table in the student commons area at lunchtime.
Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Branford High School on behalf of Branford High School Students for Life with the request that the school’s discriminatory behavior end. The letter asked for written confirmation by March 12th to Bailey-Loomis that her club’s rights will be respected.
“The First Amendment protects everyone, regardless of the speech that you’re presenting to the student body, regardless of whether it seems controversial to the administration,” said Bailey-Loomis.
According to the New Haven Register, Board of Education Chairman Michael Krause said, “All I know right now is that the administration is looking into it. They shouldn’t be discriminated against." He added, "As long as all the procedures are being followed as to how we treat our clubs, they should be treated just like any other club.”
Breitbart News attempted to contact Hamlet Hernandez, Branford's superintendent, but received no response by time of publication.
In February of 2013, the Branford Seven reported that one parent, who requested anonymity, spoke to the local board of education with concerns over the formation of Branford Students for Life, which she claimed could impact the safety of her child at the high school.
“It has come to my attention that a BHS ‘pro-life’ club has been formed," the parent said. “We all know that especially today that a pro-life/pro-choice debate is a very heated and intense topic. Whatever side students, teachers, administrators, parents and people are on, all sides are very passionate and very divided.”
“A club that is so clearly divisive should not be permitted in the public school system,” the parent stated. “In the very least it is a topical club that is alienating. It is not a club of supported diversity. It is a distraction from what our children are really there for, an education.”
The parent went further, however, to the extent that she likened Branford Students for Life to a “hate” group.
“At the very most, this is a club that gets its directive from an extreme base of hate and intolerance,” she continued. “Their tactics of killing doctors, assaulting women, blowing up clinics is terroristic in nature and a total disregard for law and woman [sic] at large.”
“In short, to have such a club at BHS makes me very concerned for the safety of my daughter and for all students at Branford High School," she went on.
“Don’t let hate groups infiltrate our educational system,” the parent concluded.
Kristan Hawkins, president of SFLA, commented, “We cannot sit back while our pro-life students are denied their constitutional rights and bullied by their school administrators.”
“We commend Sam and the members of Branford High School Students for Life for their courage and willingness to step up and demand that their school respect their rights, and I am looking forward to witnessing another pro-life student victory,” Hawkins added.
As Breitbart News reported in February, SFLA fought another First Amendment battle at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Washington, where pro-life students were refused permission to hang their pro-life message posters in the school. Students said they were told the school policy prohibited posters that were offensive to staff or students or that cause “disruption.”
According to SFLA, a victory was won for pro-life students at Wilson High School, though the school district created new regulations affecting the free speech of all students.
“After a week of negative media attention and pressure from the pro-life community," SFLA stated, "the school has decided to allow Wilson Students for Life to host their events, but has also decided that no student groups will be allowed to post flyers advocating for their cause, only flyers about meeting times.”
Hawkins told Breitbart News that SFLA has about 275 active high school groups in the country, with about 30-35 in public high schools.
“High schoolers are incredibly passionate. Our High School Initiative has more than doubled since we began last spring because of the eagerness and drive these young students have,” Hawkins said. “We have high school groups that are leading their community 40 Days for Life campaigns, hosting their own conferences for hundreds of attendees, organizing baby showers, and collecting thousands of dollars’ worth of baby items.”
“Our high school Students for Life groups are excited and ready to abolish abortion,” she added.
Hawkins said, however, that all SFLA clubs in public schools have faced challenges from the schools’ administrations.
“The degree varies by school and, with our mentorship, most of our students have been able to work through the roadblocks without having to pursue legal action,” she explained. “But there is always some initial resistance from the administration and staff members that only those of us behind the scenes witness.”