A Florida high school is violating federal law and the Constitution by preventing the formation of a pro-life club even though the same school allows dozens of other student clubs, including LGBTQ special-interest ones, a religious liberty group alleges.
Gulf Coast High School in Naples, Fla., refused this year to officially recognize a pro-life club affiliated with Students for Life of America, even though the pro-life student in question, Gabrielle Gabbard, followed every requirement, according to a letter Alliance Defending Freedom submitted to Collier County Public Schools Thursday.
The club was to be called “Sharks 4 Life,” but the assistant principal declined to “approve the club because it was too ‘political’ and ‘controversial,’” the letter says. Further, the assistant principal said, “she did not want either pro-choice or pro-life groups at Gulf Coast,” according to the letter.
“[The] failure to recognize Sharks 4 Life is blatantly illegal under the Equal Access Act and First Amendment, both of which guarantee” Gabbard the right to “have a student club that stands on equal footing with the hundreds of other student clubs in Collier County public schools,” the letter says.
The Equal Access Act prevents schools from receiving federal funding if they deny students the right to conduct meetings because of the “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” The letter cites a Supreme Court decision, Board of Education v. Mergens (1990), which said a school that allows one “noncurriculum related student group” may not “deny other clubs” on the basis of their content.
“Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for being too ‘political’ or ‘controversial,’ especially when they have rightfully approved a whole host of other clubs formed around religious, political, and social interests,” said ADF legal counsel Michael Ross. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations. Gulf Coast High School must recognize Sharks 4 Life, and Collier County Public Schools needs to update its policies so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The school officially recognizes 78 clubs, including “political groups like Turning Point USA, Young Conservatives, and Gulf Coast’s Collier Students for Change, ethnicity-based groups like clubs for Korean culture or Asian Culture, religious groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and LGBTQ special-interest groups like the Gay-Straight Alliance.”
“These student clubs are an essential part of a student’s education because participating in and leading clubs allows students to develop their own special interests and to develop and express their religious and political views,” the letter says. “But Gulf Coast High School has denied Ms. Gabbard the ability to form her own pro-life student club.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Antonio Diaz
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.