After school administrators at Carmel High School censored and discarded a previously approved adoption poster display created by Carmel Teens for Life, the pro-life student club members hang their newly-created sign today on the cafeteria wall. The new poster will hang for 10 consecutive school days.
Last fall, student members of Carmel Teens for Life, represented by Liberty Counsel, spent over 25 hours painting a poster display which included 300 individual tiny hearts, each representing 10 lives, to symbolize the written statement “3,000 Lives Are Ended Each Day.” When one student complained to an administrator that it was “offensive,” school officials threw the poster away without consulting with the pro-life club’s leadership. School officials later claimed the multi-part poster impermissibly expressed an “ideology” and was “not approved for display.” The poster was, in fact, approved for display, as evidenced by approval stamps on each of its component pages, and it complied with school signage guidelines to the letter.
However, when challenged for taking down the poster, the principal and assistant principal said that club signs are not permitted to “interfere with what folks are thinking or feeling comfortable with” despite the fact that signs from other organizations promoting ideologies such as pro-LGBT and pro-Young Democrats are allowed. Trying to save face, the Carmel Clay School Board of Education, through its general counsel, stated in a contradictory recent press release, “Our decision to allow the sign to return is not the school’s endorsement of the message any more than our decision to remove the sign was the school’s rejection of that message.”
School personnel had also demanded the Carmel Teens for Life student members sign an agreement prohibiting club members from using the word “abortion” in any club communications, verbal or written, including on Facebook, school posters and other official correspondence. The onerous agreement also dictated they could not contact outside legal assistance. The students were not allowed to take the agreement home or to discuss it with their parents. They were threatened that if they did not sign the agreement immediately the club sponsors would be forced to resign, jeopardizing the club’s existence.
“Carmel High School officials engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and undoubtedly violated the Carmel Teens for Life members’ free speech by throwing away their sign,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Not only did they censor protected speech, they threatened students with retaliation if they sought legal counsel. The school officials were clearly wrong in this case. But, with Liberty Counsel’s help, the students have secured the right to hang their sign, which they had a right to do all along. Despite what the school district now claims, the students always followed the rules and would have won in court. We hope the school officials will now respect the free speech rights of Carmel Teens for Life. Liberty Counsel stands ready to defend the students in the event they don’t,” said Staver.
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Mary Carmen Zakrajsek, president of Carmel Teens for Life, recently addressed the Indiana House Education Committee in support of House Bill 1024, which seeks to prevent public schools from discriminating against students for their religious beliefs and expression. Zakrajsek said, speaking from her recent experiences, “Student voices are being silenced and it’s time to take a stand.”
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.