Law Firm Charges VA Principal with Discrimination against Pro-Life Club

Law Firm Charges VA Principal with Discrimination against Pro-Life Club

The Thomas More Society has sent a demand letter to a Virginia high school principal, charging that his denial of the establishment of a pro-life club is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The Chicago-based public interest law firm sent the letter to Principal Larry Marks on behalf of Students for Life of America (SFLA) and Maddie Sutherland, a senior at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania, Virginia.

According to the demand letter, Marks delayed responding to Sutherland’s request, made on September 23, 2014, to start a pro-life club. On October 10, Sutherland received, through her adviser, a letter that formally denied permission to start the club, based on the reason that the pro-life club did not “bear a clear relationship to the regular school curriculum.” Additionally, the letter indicates that Sutherland’s application for the pro-life club did “not provide all the required information,” such as a description of the relationship between the club and the regular school curriculum, and a copy of the club’s bylaws.

Sutherland subsequently re-submitted her application, along with her club’s constitution and bylaws.

“This past Friday, November 7, a full 14 days after re-submitting her application,” the letter states, “Ms. Sutherland followed up with you, only to be told that you would call her in to speak with you this week to ‘fix things.’”

“This persistent delay and continued refusal to approve Ms. Sutherland’s club is a violation of her rights and her fellow students’ rights under both the federal Equal Access Act (EAA) and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the letter continues.

The letter also indicates that a review of school policy finds no requirement that a club show a “clear relationship to the regular school curriculum.”

“A denial based on this requirement … is illegal where, as here, the school has other non-curricular clubs,” states the letter.

“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” said Jocelyn Floyd, associate counsel of the Thomas More Society, in a statement on the SFLA website. “By denying Maddie’s pro-life group on the grounds that it is not tied to the school’s curriculum, while allowing other non-curricular groups such as an equestrian club and lacrosse club, Courtland High School is violating their students’ First Amendment rights.”

“Maddie and her fellow students have the constitutional right to express their pro-life views,” Floyd continued.” As the Supreme Court has consistently emphasized, students do not lose their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse gate.”

“It is unfortunate that many pro-life high school students have faced resistance from hostile school administrators,” said SFLA President Kristan Hawkins. “Thanks to passionate pro-life students like Maddie who want to help educate their peers on the tragedy of abortion, and attorneys like those at Thomas More Society, we are able to get these needed pro-life clubs off the ground.”

“Abortion is the greatest violation of human rights in our time,” said Sutherland, “and I believe the pro-life message deserves a voice at my school.”

The Thomas More Society’s letter requests that Principal Marks approve Sutherland’s application for a pro-life club at Courtland High School by November 20.