Imagine a group of sixth graders sitting at lunch discussing the lesson they just had on childbirth. One of those students is your daughter. When another student asks her how she feels about abortion, your daughter says that it’s wrong and then decides to hand out pro-life fliers that read:
“Save the baby humans. Stop abortion.”
Would you be proud of her actions? Would you encourage her to continue on to stand up for the biblical principles she has been taught?
Now what would you do if you were contacted by the school’s director who told you that other students found the pro-life fliers to be offensive and that your daughter had to stop handing them out during or after school hours?
That’s what happened to the parents of a 6th grade girl at Nova Classical Academy (a charter school) in St Paul, Minnesota. The parents were also told that students are supposed to receive written permission from the school before handing anything out to other students and she had not followed the policy. Furthermore, they were told that the pro-life message was not in line with the school’s educational goals and that only students enrolled in their School of Rhetoric [high school] were allowed to participate in political activism.
When the parents questioned the school’s right to censor their daughter’s right to free speech, especially ‘after school hours’, the school informed them that they have the legal right to do so. They cited a Supreme Court case and Wikipedia, but took the ruling of that case completely out of context according to the Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys that have filed a lawsuit against the school.
Matt Sharp, an ADF attorney that specializes in defending the First Amendment rights of students, says the parents received an email from the school’s director stating:
“The school has a right to censor students without violating their free speech. In short, public schools have every right to prohibit student speech.”
Sharp explained the lawsuit that was filed last Friday, saying:
“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.’”
Jeremy Tedesco, Senior Legal Counsel for ADF also commented on the case, saying:
“Students should not need a permission slip every time they wish to express their views on current events of the day. We hope that Nova Classical Academy will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
A.Z. and her parents are being represented by ADF allied attorney Stanley Zahorsky. In case you are interested in following this case, it is A.Z. v. Nova Classical Academy and was filed in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota.
I can’t recall how many cases like this that I’ve seen or read about in the past few years where schools believe they have the right to violate students’ constitutional rights of free speech and religion. In some instances, I’ve seen prisoners get more rights than many public school students. I’m glad that this student’s parents have filed a lawsuit and hope that any other parent whose child has their constitutional rights violated by school officials will do the same thing.