Sunday, December 15, 2019
US flag

Pro-life club may sue Ind. H.S. for censorship

A pro-life club may decide to sue a high school north of Indianapolis because it allegedly censored a poster the club produced, which officials may feel is insensitive to other students who support abortion, the right confirmed for all American women by the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Carmel HS students spent hours painting this poster (school via Facebook)

Nothing stimulates debate between free-speech advocates and free-religion advocates like a poster condemning abortion. Students in the Teens for Life club at Carmel High School spent several hours painting a poster that featured 300 hearts and the message, “3,000 Lives Are Ended Each Day,” with each painted heart representing 10 lives. The poster also advises pregnant women, high school students being the intended audience, to replace “abortion” with “adoption” as a strategy for dealing with teen pregnancy.

According to Liberty Counsel, a pro-life advocacy group based in Florida, school officials asked the Teens for Life students to take down the poster, because those officials felt it violated a few provisions for the posting of notices and bills by students. Specifically, they said it had not been pre-approved and may “interfere with what folks are thinking or feeling comfortable with.”

But asking students to take down a poster because it expresses a specific viewpoint about a matter that’s important to students, if that poster would otherwise be allowed, comes down to possible viewpoint discrimination on the part of the school.

“Schools may not censor pro-life viewpoints,” the Star quoted Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder, as saying in a statement. “The actions of the school officials are outrageous. … We will hold this school and these officials accountable.”

John L Hill, a professor with expertise in legal theory and ethics at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, told the paper that the Supreme Court has ruled against public schools in similar viewpoint discrimination matters. “The worst kind of discrimination under the First Amendment is viewpoint discrimination,” he was quoted as saying.

“Viewpoint discrimination” is the term the Court has used to identify government laws, rules, or decisions, such as those at Carmel High School, that tend to favor or disfavor one or more opinions on a particular controversy. For example, a school that allows “pro-choice” posters to be displayed by students in the poster area but bans “pro-life” posters because of their views would be engaged in “viewpoint discrimination.”

Public schools, as agents of the government, have to remain neutral with regard to what they prohibit and allow. Even if no pro-life club wants to display a poster, the school can’t ban it simply because it expresses a certain opinion or viewpoint on this important controversy. However, public schools are definitely within their rights to restrict student speech if they believe it’s disruptive to the learning process or the school environment.

Carmel Clay Schools Superintendent Nicholas Wahl issued this statement last week: “Carmel Clay Schools supports the rights of its students to express their opinions and our school clubs are one opportunity for students to do so, as long as they operate within reasonable guidelines. We give serious consideration to any claim that a student’s rights have been violated.” School officials promised to review the matter to determine what happened and what might be an appropriate course of action.

Because the school has allowed the posting of student speech in support of gay and lesbian students, Liberty Counsel says it will sue the school if the Carmel Teens for Life posters are prohibited or the speech of those students is censored based on viewpoint. If that’s Liberty Counsel’s only argument, though, they’re going to lose.

“Viewpoint discrimination,” which is illegal, usually refers to restricting speech on one side and not the other of a particular controversy. Gay rights are simply another controversy, not an alternative viewpoint, so the group would have to show discrimination against student views on abortion rights in order to prevail in court.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Girls’ volleyball champs in Illinois

We congratulate the Illinois state champions in girls' volleyball: Newark, St Teresa, Sterling, & Benet Academy.

A weekend of ‘band geeks’ across America

The musical Band Geeks was in performance at a MD high school, just as marching bands from across America named a national champion.

2 dead, 3 wounded in Calif. school shooting

Another school shooting has resulted in the death of 2 California high school students. The suspect shot himself and is in custody.

Mercury makes a transit; next in 2032

A transit of Mercury occurred today and was visible from the US, provided you had sunny skies. It was one of longest possible transits.

On the Naperville BWW racist incident

A racist incident at a Naperville, IL, sports bar indicates that the threads of racism are strong, perhaps as strong as ever.

IL bill could excuse absences to vote

A proposed law in IL could give students up to two hours during the school day so they could vote in the upcoming election.

Loan forgiveness gains some bipartisan support

One Republican from GA, who used to work under Betsy DeVos at the US Education Dept, offers a plan to forgive some student loan debt.

A band teacher is IL Teacher of the Year

IL named a band teacher the 2020 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 19. He individualizes music instruction and shares his work with 1000s.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ bookends Halloween

Several high schools have decided to add a little spook to their musical stages in this season of Halloween. Music makes it happen.

New IL law ensures inclusion of LGBTQ+

A law will take effect next school year in IL that will require students to study LGBTQ history as part of the social studies curriculum.

MoCo doubles down on summer learning loss

Research is at least equivocal about summer learning loss, but maybe there's something to a new plan in Montgomery County, Md.