Sunday, April 12, 2015

Public Schools Pro Life?

                                Students for Life of America (SFLA) is the largest youth pro-life organization in the nation. Their mission is to advocate for preborn rights and ultimately abolish abortion. Katie Mcpherson and Brigid O’Keefe are both sophomores who have tried to bring SFLA to their schools. The school administrators from Davis and Fargo North High School have denied their requests to bring this group on campus. The schools classified this organization as an outside agency, which violates the no-solicitation policy. This policy prohibits students, staff, and faculty from seeking to obtain membership or support of any organization through school resources. The club cannot incorporate the school’s name in any activities, pamphlets, or events.

                Kristen Hawkins, the president of SFLA, and the supporting students believe this is a form of discrimination. The North Dakota school district is being sent a request letter to reverse their disapproval as a warning. They believe the district’s decision infringes on the student’s first amendment rights and the Equal Access Act. Public schools cannot discriminate against any student run group.  They believe that the no-solicitation policy applies to the exploitation of business, not to censor the student’s free speech. Jocelyn Floyd, the Thomas More Society associate, states that the topic of abortion is a controversial issue for schools. Schools are fearful of the negative publicity and tension it may bring to the school environment. Floyd continued to state that the Supreme Court has emphasized that students do not lose their freedom of speech just because they are on school’s premises.

                This is an exceptional case because for the first time SFLA has experienced district wide discrimination.  The SFLA club is on 300 high school campuses and has been persistent in persuading schools to allow student’s facilitation of the organization. Their ultimate goal is to spread awareness about the pro-life message to not only high school students, but to all people. The SFLA advocates feel that the school’s disproval of their program is prohibiting them from spreading their views.

The Pro Life debate has many political and religious ties and is understandably an avoided topic of discussion. The articled brought up how some administration and faculty may have strong opposing views on the pro-life versus pro-choice debate. I understand how the school may view this club as a catalyst of controversial debate on their campus. The school has an obligation to keep their students safety at best interest. However I don’t agree that fear of campus tension is a valid reason to disallow this organization from sharing their views on abortion.

I believe that every student should have the right to share their views on campus. Their first amendment rights should never be compromised. However, the school’s interest in maintaining neutrality can somewhat override the student’s request to bring organizations on campus. They are worried about their sponsorship of such a programs. When a club organization is allowed by school administration, they are funded by the school. Essentially the school’s name is attached to the organizations they sponsor on campus.

I think the school should find a way to adhere to the students wants while maintaining neutrality to such a controversial topic. Maybe instead of sponsoring the club, they can allow students to have an open forum about their views on their topic. To avoid advancing a side, the North Dakota district should allow both prolife and prochoice organizations as clubs.  This way, the school is not prohibiting the students from having or sharing their opinions. Another option is to allow students to facilitate meetings by fundraising their own money or facilitating meetings with outside sponsorship. This would eliminate any suspicion that the school favors any opinions about the debate. One misconception about freedom of speech is that everyone is able to say anything without consequence. Although the students have the right and opportunity to support whatever views they have, they cannot put the school in a position that entangles in political views with a publicly funded program.

I think the no-solicitation claim is flawed in that the organization would not be exploited on the school’s campus. However, it is unconstitutional for a public school to be entangled with religious or political views such as this debate. I think if this conflict was taken to court, the schools would be granted the authority to choose which clubs were permitted on campus. Ultimately, cases like these prove that our rights are not always absolute. 

What do you think? Should the organization be permitted on campus?


Molly H. said...

I strongly agree with the author in the sense that, I agree that students should be allowed to express their views and opinions in a healthy and proactive way on their school's campus, but I also agree with the school's concern of allowing SFLA in their school system, which may cause hostility or tension. Prolife vs. Prochoice is not an easy topic to discuss, and the fact that these students believe that their student body would want to hear their opinion is impressive in the way that they are passionate enough about the subject. Unfortunately, I think that if a Prochoice organization were to have such a large number of members and wished to join other school organizations, they would have the same, if not more of a hard time being allowed. When it comes down to it, I do not think that SFLA should be allowed on this schools campus simply because it may disrupt the neautral viewpoint that public schools are expected to uphold. The students should be allowed to hold assemblies, as Nneoma suggested, but they should not be recognized as an official club of the school.

Sam Cohen said...

The pro-life vs. pro-choice debate may have religious ties, but it isn't a religious debate. The debate is really about whether killing a fetus is considered murder or if it is considered the effect of a woman controlling and protecting her own body and future. While it is true that many observing Christians and other bible-followers oppose giving women the right to choose because it contradicts their religious beliefs, the debate itself is about what is considered murder. With that said, this group should be allowed to form on public school campuses and on government-owned property because the First Amendment allows people to express their views, whether individually or in a group, on public property. Public schools cannot constitutionally tell students that they aren't allowed to express their views in public, which is exactly what they are doing right now. If the schools were private, this would be a different story but the schools are government-funded and thus, they must abide by all constitutional principles with no exceptions

Libby W said...

I agree that the students should be able to freely express their views, especially considering this is a public school. The issue here is that the school is worried about endorsing this belief, so it would be necessary to have a statement in the student handbook or bylaws that states that the school does not endorse any of the clubs that are led by the students to avoid excessive entanglement. The students have the right to form this club and not allowing them this right would be unconstitutional.

Liz E said...

I agree that bringing the SLFA onto the school's campus would cause a great deal of hostility and tension and could possibly lead to violence. When a school sponsors a club, it gives approval of the message that club is sending. I feel that if a school does not want to send what is, in their opinion, a hostile message then it should not be forced to do so. If the school wants to remain neutral on this particular, it should have that option.

Morgan M said...

Pro life vs. Pro choice is a very hard topic to discuss. The interests of both groups are understandable and it is important to see this as more than a religious argument as Sam points out. That being said, I do think that by the school allowing the organization to have a club might cause some students to think that the university is tied to the pro life organizations ideals. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with the club if both viewpoints are allowed. I do not think that the school has the right to pick and choose which organizations they are willing to endorse if they are a public school and have established a limited open forum. In this case, if there is an opportunity for a pro choice organization to form a club as well, I see no issue with allowing a group to express their beliefs, even as a school funded club.

Adam Drake said...

The pro-life, pro-choice debate is a very difficult one to have, but I think that having this debate in a controlled and supervised environment such as a school would actually be beneficial for students. Shielding them from real world issues isn't going to benefit them when they go out in to the real world and it is healthy to form one's own opinions. That being said, it is difficult to remove religion from the debate, but public schools cannot call the conversation entirely religious and forbid the views from being expressed. As long as both sides of the debate can be heard and the school remains neutral I see no issue of constitutionality.