A Pennsylvania school district has admitted that a former Downington Area School District Assistant Principal violated two pro-life teens’ 1st Amendment rights.
Former Downingtown Area High School Assistant Principal Zach Ruff was filmed unleashing a verbal tirade at a pair of pro-life teenagers standing with signs on a public street corner outside of a local high school.
“Listen here, son, alright? I am as gay as the day is long, and twice as sunny. I don’t give a f*ck what you think Jesus tells me about what I should and should not be doing,” Ruff barked.
“You’re acting very immaturely. I’m 16 and you’re yelling at me,” one of the teens responded.
Ruff was placed on administrative leave in April and resigned in May. Superintendent Emilie Lonardi released a 19-page-letter this month admitting that Dr. Ruff’s actions violated the First Amendment rights of the student protesters. She also announced that all employees in the school district will be receiving information on the First Amendment to remind them of their responsibility in protecting the speech rights of students.
You had every right under our Constitution’s First Amendment to speak and display signs like you did, and that right was violated by Dr. Ruff. Rest assured that Dr. Ruff’s actions do not represent the policy of the School District. Instead, we will be providing information to our employees on the First Amendment rights of individuals. We are committed to preventing incidents like this from happening in the future and will instruct school employees not to violate anyone’s Free Speech rights on public sidewalks outside our schools again.
The Alliance Defending Freedom group argues that Ruff’s attempt to rip the sign out of one of the teen’s hands could constitute “assault and battery in Pennsylvania.” A revised policy from the school district specifically references the Ruff incident.
“Speaking for or against abortion is equally protected, even if some find words or images to be personally offensive,” it reads. “As long as there is no disruption [of classes or operations] … [students and others have the right] to engage in protected speech on the public sidewalks outside of school buildings.”
However, the policy also explains that students are not permitted to publish whatever they please in student publications, citing the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision, which ruled that school administrators could exercise prior-restraint of school-sponsored expression, including student newspapers and assembly speeches, if the censorship is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org