Brittany M. Hughes | November 12, 2014
(CNSNews.com) – The Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, sent a demand letter Tuesday to a public high school principal in Virginia after he refused to grant Madison Sutherland, a senior at the school, permission to start a pro-life club on campus.
“As there is no legally acceptable reason to reject Ms. Sutherland’s application, we request that you reverse your decision and promptly approve Ms. Sutherland’s request to establish, publicize, and actively run a pro-life student group at Courtland High School,” said the Thomas More Society’s letter.
“Should Courtland High School persist in its violation of the EAA [federal Equal Access Act] and Ms. Sutherland’s First Amendment rights, we are prepared to pursue the matter in court,” it said.
According to the law firm’s news release, Larry Marks, the principal at Courtland High School in Fredericksburg, Va., continually denied high school senior Madison Sutherland’s efforts to start a pro-life club, even after she filed all the necessary paperwork and found a faculty adviser to sponsor the group.
Sutherland had first voiced her desire to start the group on Sept. 23 and filed the paperwork the school required to start the club–including identifying a faculty adviser and submitting a club constitution.
“Abortion is the greatest violation of human rights in our time and I believe the pro-life message deserves a voice at my school,” Sutherland explained in the news release.
On Oct. 10, well past the 10-day window Marks had to decide whether to allow the club, the school sent Sutherland a letter saying Marks had denied her group, because it did not “bear a clear relationship to the regular school curriculum,” and because she had not included by-laws with her proposed constitution, according to Sutherland’s attorneys.
But according to the school’s club application forms, it is not a requirement that a new on-campus club have a relationship to the school’s curriculum, the Thomas More Society said. On top of that, several other clubs at Courtland High School don’t have a curriculum-related purpose–including an equestrian club, and environmental club and a multicultural group, the law firm added.
“As for the proposed club’s alleged lack of any link to the school curriculum, the application form itself concedes that the supposed requirement is not applicable to all groups–instead it asks students to explain the link ‘if applicable,’” the law firm stated. “Selectively enforcing this ‘requirement’ against Maddie and her group is obvious discrimination.”
On Oct. 24, Sutherland re-submitted her application, including proposed by-laws. More than two weeks later, she approached Marks again to ask about her club’s progress.
“Mr. Marks further delayed giving approval for the club, telling her only that he would call her back to his office sometime this week to ‘fix things,’” the law firm explained.
Having done all the necessary work, Sutherland was at a loss as to why Marks wouldn’t approve the group.
“Even though I had found a faculty advisor for our pro-life club and submitted all the necessary paperwork that the school required, Mr. Marks wouldn’t approve our pro-life club,” Sutherland said.
Marks did not return CNSNews.com’s phone calls seeking a comment.
Sutherland’s attorneys claim the school’s prohibition of a pro-life group is a violation of pro-life students’ constitutional rights.
“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” Jocelyn Floyd, a lawyer at the Thomas More Society, said in the news release. “By denying Maddie’s pro-life group on the grounds that it is not tied to the school’s curriculum, while allowing other non-curricular groups such as an equestrian club and lacrosse club, Courtland High School is violating their students’ First Amendment rights.”
“Maddie and her fellow students have the constitutional right to express their pro-life views,” the firm continued. “As the Supreme Court has consistently emphasized, students do not lose their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse gate.”
The Thomas More Society has sent Marks a letter requesting that he rescind his earlier decision to deny the club and allow Sutherland and fellow pro-life students to begin meeting at the school.