Two students have filed a lawsuit against their Pennsylvania school district for the right to operate a pro-life club according to their proposed mission statement. The lawsuit came after the district refused to back down from requiring the club’s policies meet unprecedented standards.
Elizabeth Castro and Grace Schairer jumped through all the requisite hoops to establish Trojans for Life at Parkland High School in Allentown, Penn., only to have their request denied in March. After attorneys with the Thomas More Society warned the district in a letter that its actions violated the students’ constitutional rights, the school backed down but with a caveat.
The club said its mission was to “establish an active pro-life culture among the youth of our community by educating our peers on life.” But the district demanded the students keep their pro-life message confined to members only and changed the mission to “establish[ing] an active pro-life culture among our members by educating our members on life.”
“As far as we know, no other club is restricted to advocating and educating solely their own members, but are permitted to engage in speech with the entire school,” said Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society attorney. “Even after we explained the problems with those restrictions and gave legal support to back up our explanations, the district insisted that it would not change its positions on any of them.”
With negotiations at an impasse, Castro and Schairer filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit, Castro v. Parkland School District, claims the district’s actions violate the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment.
The district also prohibited the club from fundraising, fearing a possible violation of the Establishment Clause if money raised by the students went to support religiously affiliated pregnancy centers. But Floyd said the law allows student clubs to use raised funds at their discretion.
Administrators called students’ plans to sponsor a memorial service outside an abortion center “dangerous,” denied the activity, and declared all club activities subject to district approval.
Floyd said no other Parkland High School club is required to operate under such scrutiny, and the standards violate the district’s own policy.
Schairer, who will be a senior this fall, hopes to see the club established before she graduates to educate her peers about abortion and offer resources to students facing unplanned pregnancies.
“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,” she said.
— by Bonnie Pritchett