Minn. school says it has ‘every right to prohibit student speech’

Alliance Defending Freedom files lawsuit on behalf of 6th-grade pro-life student
Friday, April 26, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit Friday on behalf of a 6th-grade student after a Minnesota public school prohibited her from distributing pro-life fliers to her classmates during non-instructional time.

“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “The law on this is extremely clear: free speech cannot be censored simply because it expresses a certain viewpoint that administrators don’t favor. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”

In late February, the 6th-grade student and her friends at Nova Classical Academy 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.”

A few days later, they were called into the school director’s office and told that some students find pro-life fliers offensive and that they were no longer allowed to pass them out during or after school hours, even if students requested them. School policy also requires students to obtain “prior approval from an administrator” before engaging in free speech.

In an e-mail 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 director wrote. “In short, public schools have every right to prohibit student speech.”

The lawsuit explains that the “Academy’s literature distribution policy and practice leaves censorship of student speech to the whim of Academy officials” and exhibits “hostility toward religious expression.” Moreover, “the Academy has allowed other similarly situated students to distribute written materials containing secular expression during non-instructional time.”

“Students should not need a permission slip every time they wish to express their views on current events of the day,” said Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope that Nova Classical Academy will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

Stanley Zahorsky, one of more than 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in the case, A.Z. v. Nova Classical Academy, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)
 
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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