Naples, Florida, Nov 8, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- A Florida public high school’s decision not to recognize a student pro-life group is a violation of the Constitution, one legal group says.
Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom on Nov. 7 sent a letter to Gulf Coast High School in Collier County, Florida, asking administrators to reconsider the decision to deny the club official status.
Earlier in the school year, student Gabrielle Gabbard attempted to form a Sharks 4 Life student group on campus, affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. The purpose of the group, according to a promotional flyer, was “to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events.”
However, the letter from Alliance Defending Freedom charges, Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown told Gabbard that the group would not be approved by the school district because it was too “political” and “controversial.”
The letter also says Crawford-Brown threatened the club’s faculty advisors, suggesting that they could lose their jobs if they were affiliated with the club, which caused them to withdraw from their participation in the group.
Gabbard and her peers have now missed out on club recruiting opportunities and been denied access to school facilities and advertising, the letter says.
Alliance Defending Freedom said the school’s actions constitute “a blatant form of discrimination based on the club’s viewpoint and the political content of its speech [that] is expressly disallowed” by both the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Access Act.
“Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for being too ‘political’ or ‘controversial,’ especially when they have rightfully approved a whole host of other clubs formed around religious, political, and social interests,” said Michael Ross, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a press release. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations.”
The letter notes that Gulf Coast High School recognizes more than 75 students clubs, including others with religious and political affiliations, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Collier Students for Change, which is affiliated with Florida’s Democratic Party, have all been approved by the school.
In the letter, Alliance Defending Freedom asks the school to provide written notification of Sharks 4 Life’s approval within a week, and asked the Collier County school board to update its written policies clarifying that clubs will not face discrimination based on their religious or political views.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, warned that the scenario at Gulf Coast High School was not unique.
“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” she said in a press release.
“But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly.”