Parkland High School and Parkland School District sued for violating students’ First Amendment rights
Thomas More Society has filed a lawsuit against Parkland High School and Parkland School District on behalf of students Elizabeth (Liz) Castro and Grace Schairer. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims that school administrators have violated Liz and Grace’s free speech rights by denying their application to form a Students for Life club at the school and then conditioning approval on the students giving up certain speech rights.
“Parkland’s initial denial and later attempt to impose extra requirements on Liz and Grace’s club are a far cry from the law’s requirement that schools treat student clubs equally in every respect,” said Jocelyn Floyd, special counsel for Thomas More Society. “We hope that the court will quickly recognize the illegal and unconstitutional way the school has treated Liz and Grace and require Parkland High School to uphold their rights under both the First Amendment and Equal Access Act.”
Liz Castro and Grace Schairer first approached the Parkland administration about starting Trojans for Life in September 2016. After numerous meetings and submitting a formal club proposal, their club was denied in March for being too political and controversial. Liz and Grace reached out for assistance to Students for Life of America (SFLA), a national organization that provides support to student pro-life clubs.
SFLA’s attorneys at the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to the school and the school district, challenging the administrators’ denial of the club as a violation of the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Society asked for the school to approve the club, giving it full access to the school’s established expressive forum, equal to all other clubs.
In response, the district said it would approve the club—but only if Elizabeth and Grace changed the club’s mission, abandoned certain activities, and gave up their rights to fundraise. Far from treating Trojans for Life equally, these are demands that no other clubs are required to meet.
“The school is treating us like second-class citizens because we want to create a culture of life and be a positive influence to our peers,” said Grace Schairer, who will be a senior this coming fall at Parkland High School. “We want to educate our fellow students about abortion and at the same time be a visible resource for our peers facing unplanned pregnancies. The school has made it clear that it will not allow us to have this type of club, so we decided to file the lawsuit. We are hoping for a quick resolution so Trojans for Life can hit the ground running at the start of the fall semester, along with all the other clubs at Parkland High School.”
“Holding pro-life views and wanting to create a culture of life on campus is not grounds for the blatant discrimination shown by school administrators,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “It is our hope that Parkland High School swiftly allows the Students for Life at the school the same rights granted to every other group on campus.”
The Thomas More Society’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with assistance from local co-counsel Christopher G. Sweet of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, Inc., asks for the court to order Parkland School District to approve Trojans for Life with the rights and privileges granted to all other clubs.
Read Thomas More Society’s complaint here.