School stonewalls students who want to start pro-life club

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
At North High School in Fargo, North Dakota, sophomore Brigid O'Keefe submitted an application to start a pro-life club. School administrators put Brigid and other prospective club members through extensive questioning, including questions about their religious affiliations, before denying the club. |

FARGO, N.D. (Christian Examiner) – The Thomas More Society, a Chicago law firm specializing in public interest issues, charges that two high schools, the school district and school board in Fargo, North Dakota, have denied the constitutional rights of students who applied to start pro-life clubs on their respective campuses.

"Public schools are required by law to treat all student groups equally," Jocelyn Floyd, associate counselor at The Thomas More Society, told "However, the school district and administrators at Fargo North and Davies High Schools are treating pro-life students as second class citizens, forcing them to abide by a policy that was designed to protect students from exploitation by businesses...not to censor the students' own free speech."

Davies High School sophomore Katie McPherson first tried to start a pro-life club last September. Her application was not approved, and she was not given a room assignment for meetings.

At North High School, sophomore Brigid O'Keefe, in February, found an adviser and submitted her application to start a pro-life club.

"School administrators put Brigid and other prospective club members through extensive questioning, including questions about their religious affiliations, before denying the club," according to the article.

When the students asked for reconsideration, North High administrators turned the matter over to the school district. The school district combined the two applications and determined pro-life clubs by whatever name were "outside agencies" rather than a student club. Consequently, the school's name cannot be part of the club's name, the club cannot host events or put up posters or other advertisements promoting their point of view.

"This is a clear misapplication of a policy that was never intended to limit students' speech on significant human rights issues facing their generation," Floyd continued.

This ruling was made by school officials despite the fact that more than 17 percent of abortions in the United States involve teenage girls.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a former affiliate of Planned Parenthood, "17 percent of all U.S. abortions are obtained by teenagers. Teens aged 18–19 account for 11 percent of all abortions and 15–17-year-olds account for 6 percent; teens younger than age 15 account for another 0.4 percent. Teens aged 18–19 obtain two out of three teen abortions."

"We want to share with our peers the pro-life message of respect for all people at any stages, and make a positive impact on our community," O'Keefe told local media.

"In our non-confrontational culture sometimes described with the term 'Minnesota Nice,' I can understand why Fargo Public Schools shy away from student groups that might indeed stir up controversy," Durward Garrett told Christian Examiner. Garrett is longtime pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Fargo.

"But in this case, the well-reasoned and legally sound argument of the Thomas More Society, the conviction-based concern of pro-life students, and the important heritage in our country of freedom of expression – especially the expression of controversial ideas – should bring Fargo Public School administrators to recognize their error, apologize to these brave students and permit them the same kind of access and opportunity granted to other student group," he said.

The school district said it is taking the allegations seriously and they forwarded The Thomas More Society's letter to the school system's attorney for review.

Fargo School Board President Robin Nelson said that board was not involved in the district's decision regarding the clubs.

"It has not risen to a board-level discussion at this time," Nelson said.

The Thomas More Society came to the defense of pro-life clubs last year in Tacoma, Washington, and in Spotsylvania, Virginia, a spokesman said. There are no plans right now to file a lawsuit against the Fargo School District, which has been asked to respond to the legal firm's letter by April 17.

"Public schools should model and teach our young adults the proper, respectful way to handle controversy," Garrett told the Christian Examiner. "Fargo Public Schools, here's your opportunity."