A student at Omaha-area Gretna High School in Nebraska says that she has been discriminated against as a result of administrators denying her the right to form a school-sponsored Students for Life club at the school.
On Monday, Gretna High School administrators and its attorneys received a demand letter from the Thomas More Society, which represents Students for Life of America, the nation’s largest organization of pro-life students. The letter states the school discriminated against junior Bridget Christensen by denying her constitutional right to organize a school-sponsored Students for Life club called Dragons for Life.
The letter, addressed to Dr. Kevin Riley, superintendent of Gretna Public Schools, and Roger Miller, principal of Gretna High School, charges that Christensen’s attempt to start the student-led pro-life club met with resistance by school administrators who reportedly told her the club was too “religious” and also “controversial.”
The letter states:
Bridget has been informed that while nearly every current club is sponsored by the school (“Sponsored Clubs”), religious, political, and other “controversial” clubs are only permitted to meet outside school hours (“Recognized Clubs”). She was offered no written copy of this policy, and our research has shown no written policy in the student handbook or any other official Gretna High School listing of clubs and extracurricular activities.
Gretna High School’s refusal to officially offer this pro-life club the same status as other extracurricular clubs constitutes a violation of Bridget’s rights under both the federal Equal Access Act (“EAA”) and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Further, Gretna High School’s unwritten “two tier” club policy is itself a violation of all students’ rights under the EAA and the First Amendment.
The letter adds that, in the prior school year, another student attempted to obtain official school-sponsored status for Dragons for Life, but was allegedly told by Miller that “separation of church and state” prevented the school from sponsoring the club.
This year, Miller met with Christensen and her peers and reportedly told them Dragons for Life could not meet during school hours along with other school-sponsored clubs because the school district cannot support a “lifestyle choice” or “endorse” the pro-life movement. When the students raised the issue of the Gay Straight Alliance – which is a “sponsored club” of the high school – Miller reportedly told the pro-life students that the Gay Straight Alliance “serves the purpose” of preventing bullying.
Thomas More Society special counsel Jocelyn Floyd, the lead counsel for Students for Life of America’s high school clubs, observed that the Gretna High School administration response reflects a common misunderstanding of the law.
“Pro-life students are simply asking for equal treatment, and this school’s rationale for denying the group is that the club doesn’t tie in with school curriculum—but neither do most of their other clubs,” said Floyd.
Attorneys from the Thomas More Society have dealt with similar cases in California, Iowa, Nevada, North Dakota, and Virginia.
“These dismissive bans on pro-life clubs are unlawful and violate the First Amendment,” Floyd continued. “If the school has a chess club, service club, gay-straight alliance, movie club, or any other extracurricular group, they may not exclude a school Students for Life club.”
Christensen said pro-life students at Gretna High School are being treated according to a “double standard.” She explained in a statement:
Instead of dedicating my time to educating my peers about abortion and creating a strong Students for Life group at my high school that could be a resource for those students facing unplanned pregnancies, I’ve been forced to argue against my own school administrators and fight for my First Amendment rights. My school administration has been treating me and my friends who want to start the Students for Life club like second-class citizens by not allowing us to be a school-sponsored club, even though they allow many other clubs that may be considered controversial. This double standard is discrimination and it’s wrong.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, added, “Pro-life students have the same right to form a club as any other student in high school and cannot be discriminated against for their pro-life views.”
“Bridget’s rights were violated when the high school denied her request to form a Students for Life group in order to educate and inform her peers on the tragedy of abortion and to help those facing unplanned, crisis pregnancies,” Hawkins said. “Just because the school may not agree with the pro-life position doesn’t give it the right to not allow the club to exist.”
Students for Life of America and the Thomas More Society are requesting that the school district promptly approve the Students for Life club at Gretna High School.