Thursday, February 27, 2014

School approves pro-life events but deals blow to all student expression

On our program this week our guest was Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, and we discussed the case of the Tacoma, Washington high school pro-life group that was denied permission to post several pro-life posters promoting their group. 

Today, the Wilson Students for Life (“WSFL”), led by student Bryce Asberg, have received a response from high school administrators that offers a partial resolution to the group’s complaints: events requested by WSFL are now approved, but all student groups have lost the right to post expressive posters throughout the school.  This response follows on concerns raised by Asberg’s attorneys from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, national counsel of Students for Life of America. Two weeks ago, Thomas More Society, along with Washington attorney Theresa Schrempp, sent a letter demanding that the school end its discriminatory treatment of the pro-life student group, which had faced consistent obstacles when trying to get approval for events and posters.

Bryce Asberg and his parents met with the principal on Monday, to discuss resolving the discrimination against Wilson Students For Life. The principal granted the group’s request to hold a pro-life Day of Silence at their high school, and also officially notified WSFL of its approval to host a diaper drive, collecting diapers for a local pregnancy center. 

However, in response to WSFL’s request to be allowed to hang its pro-life posters, the school decided this week to prohibit all groups from hanging posters containing any graphics, opinions, or other expressive text. The principal’s proposal only allows posters to have meeting or event information on them, banning all other messages.  The effect of this policy is that the expressive nature of any student group’s speech will be limited to the audience that actually attends the meetings or events, with no ability to provoke thought or spark debate with the viewers of the poster who would likely not attend the actual event.

“The new restrictive speech policy by the Wilson High School administration teaches a
Kristan Hawkins
harmful message to their students,” said Peter Breen, a former FOT guest and vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society.  “Instead of showing these young citizens the value of the robust exchange of ideas guaranteed by the First Amendment, the school officials are teaching that the government will go to great lengths to silence messages that it opposes, including the pro-life message. Is that the lesson we want these future voters to take to heart?”

After the meeting, Bryce expressed his concerns to the principal that the new policy would communicate to students that when speech causes conflict, it’s okay for the school to simply shut it down.

“While we are pleased that the Wilson High School administration is now allowing Wilson Students for Life’s events to proceed, we are disappointed that the school has chosen to implement a policy that will limit every student’s ability to publicly advocate for causes they believe in, simply to avoid the pro-life message,” said this week’s FOT guest Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “They are sending a message to all Wilson High students that if they stand up for their rights, everyone’s will be taken away. How can Wilson High School say it is preparing students for the ‘real world’ when they won't allow important issues, issues that directly affect young people, to be discussed in the public square?”

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