Wash. college agrees to end discrimination against pro-life students

ADF attorneys secure court order, Spokane Falls Community College agrees to amend policies after threatening to expel students
Monday, September 28, 2009

SPOKANE, Wash. — Community Colleges of Spokane and Spokane Falls Community College officials agreed to a court order Thursday that settles a lawsuit filed after they attempted to unconstitutionally silence the pro-life message of a student group. SFCC officials threatened student Beth Sheeran, represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, and other members of a Christian student group with disciplinary measures, including expulsion, if they chose to hold a pro-life event on campus because the information they were sharing with other students was deemed “discriminatory” and did not include a pro-abortion viewpoint.

The agreed-upon order eliminates or revises the problematic policies and programs that led to the unconstitutional treatment of the student organization.

“Christian pro-life students shouldn’t be silenced, discriminated against, and threatened with expulsion for attempting to share their beliefs on public college campuses,” said Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We are pleased that the college officials have agreed to change their unconstitutional policies and programs so that pro-life students can voice their viewpoints, just like any other group of students on campus.”

An official rejected Sheeran’s timely request to hold a pro-life event on campus on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade that involved flier distribution and materials posted in a display case in the student center. The official said college policy prohibited one-sided events and expressive displays on campus and that the pro-life display would not be allowed because it did not include any pro-abortion viewpoints.

Another administrator later told Sheeran that the group could have the event as long as they voted on it, but after they did so, the club’s faculty advisor told the students that their flier was “offensive” and that their event violated the district’s “Stop the Hate” policy--as well as state law. The advisor said the students could face expulsion if they “offended” anyone. Sheeran and the club never held the event.

The order issued by the court requires the college district to revise its policies and procedures, requires revision of certain Washington state administrative codes, and modifies the “Stop the Hate” program’s unconstitutional provisions.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Sheeran v. Shea, against college officials in March, and Hacker presented oral argument in a hearing at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in April. ADF-allied attorney Jeffrey Smith of The Smith Law Group in Spokane served as local counsel in the case.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.