by Steven Ertelt
January 15, 2007
Johnstown, PA (LifeNews.com) — A pro-life student who was prohibited from distributing pro-life literature at her high school campus will no longer be silenced after school district officials agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by pro-life attorneys on the student’s behalf. The school prohibited Sarah Hollen from passing out the literature and taking part in a national pro-life day.
Hollen, a student at Penn Cambria High School, hoped to participate in student-led Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity, a project where students take a vow of silence to speak up for unborn children killed by abortion.
“First Amendment rights are not null and void for students on a public school campus," Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented Hollen, said after the settlement.
"The U.S. Supreme Court made that clear in the Tinker v. Des Moines ruling nearly 40 years ago,” Bowman added. “We are pleased Sarah will now be entitled to the same privileges enjoyed by other individuals and groups on campus.”
Last October, Hollen obtained permission to distribute fliers from her assistant principal, but later Sarah’s principal told her to stop, asserting that the message was controversial and “might start a fight.”
The principal also told Hollen that she must also remove a piece of tape from her mouth that read, “Ask Me Why I’m Not Talking,” even if she put it on outside of the classroom. That was despite the fact that the school had allowed similar expression by other students.
The principal denied that the assistant principal’s approval had taken place, yet she stated that fliers require approval two weeks prior to their distribution, in direct contradiction to the school board’s current policy.
Under the terms of the settlement, the school may not reject Sarah’s fliers just because they deem them controversial. Instead, school officials may only screen for obscenity or content not protected by the First Amendment, and the school must respond to Sarah’s permission request within 24 hours, Bowman explained.
Sarah may distribute fliers before school, at lunch, and after school, and she has equal access to start a pro-life club on campus that may conduct events similar to those that the school has permitted for other student groups.
School Superintendent Mary Beth Whited confirmed the settlement but denied Hollen’s free speech rights were denied.
"There was no attempt on our part to squash her rights, whatsoever," Whited told AP.
Hollen plans to pass out the fliers again on January 22, the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed virtually unlimited abrotions.
"We will be sitting down with the student prior to the requested date to go over the policy," Whited said.
A copy of the complaint filed in S.H. v. Penn Cambria School District on Dec. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania is available at https://www.telladf.org/UserDocs/SHcomplaint.pdf.
Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org