Administrators at a charter school in Minnesota who claimed a right to censor student speech outside of class time have reversed their position and now will allow a 6th-grader’s expression of her deeply held pro-life views.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of the student, announced today that the school has revised its literature distribution policy to reflect the student’s constitutional rights.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said Matt Sharp, a legal counsel for the ADF. “The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. The law on that point is extremely clear: free speech cannot be censored simply because it expresses a certain viewpoint that administrators don’t favor.”
It was in February when the student and her friends peacefully handed out pro-life fliers at lunchtime to friends and classmates interested in the topic.
One of the fliers read: “Save the baby humans. Stop abortion.”
At the time, Brian Bloomfield, executive director of the Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul, told a parent, “The school has a right to censor students without violating their free speech.”
He cited the Tinker and Hazelwood opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court as his support. He also cited Wikipedia in writing, “In short, public schools have every right to prohibit student speech.”
The lawsuit brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom said that was exactly backwards.
School administrators warned the students that other students found the pro-life information offensive and they no longer could distribute it.
At the time, in an email to the student’s parents, the school’s executive director claimed that the content of the fliers was inconsistent with the school’s educational mission and that “such political activism is limited to students in the School of Rhetoric [the high school] only.”
“The school has a right to censor students without violating their free speech,” the executive director wrote. “In short, public schools have every right to prohibit student speech.”
But as a result of the change of policy and a settlement of the case, students now are permitted to distribute literature as the 6th-grade student and her friends originally sought to do, ADF said.
Explained Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco: “This outcome ensures that free speech truly is free for any student at NCA that wishes to exercise his or her constitutionally protected freedoms.”
The discussion of the pro-life perspective had arisen because of biology lessons about pregnancy and a presentation on drugs, alcohol and date rape the academy required.