by Steven Ertelt
March 9, 2008
Rapid City, SD (LifeNews.com) — Rapid City Area School District lawyers have responded to a lawsuit from pro-life advocates who say it prevented a local organization from using public-access space. Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund sued the district saying it twice denied the pro-life group’s requests to use school facilities for an after-school meeting.
In August 2006, Citizens for Life President Allen Carlson requested permission for the group to meet at Dakota Middle Schools auditorium to host a pro-life speaker. Two months later, the school denied Carlsons request without providing a reason.
In June 2007, Carlson again applied to the school district on behalf of Citizens for Life to use the schools auditorium to host another pro-life discussion. School district officials told Carlson that the group would not be able to use the auditorium because the groups message was too controversial. School district officials refused to state the reason in writing.
The district denies the allegations and said it had not received a recent request from the pro-life group to use its facilities despite a complaint the request was denied.
Regarding the 2006 allegation, school district officials contend Carlson called to say his group had found another place to hold the meeting before the district considered the request. The district indicated Carlson called back to ask to use the building and was told that two of the three dates he wanted were no longer available.
But Carlson told the Rapid City Journal that he originally presented the request in June and that district officials told him it was too controversial. The district contends the conversation never occurred.
In their statement to LifeNews.com about the lawsuit, ADF attorneys said the school district policy allows other community groups to use the facilities for similar meetings but expressly forbids religious purposes.
It also allows school officials to choose which political groups may use the facilities, which it considers a discriminatory policy.
Pro-life groups shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs. They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America, said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione. The equal access rights of Citizens for Life must be honored regardless of whether school district officials agree with the groups message.
Babione said the South Dakota school district has a long policy of denying pro-life advocates access.
On three occasions, ADF attorneys requested copies of public records, including records showing which community groups the school district has allowed to use its facilities. School officials denied that they keep such records and have yet to fully respond to the request.
School officials are not permitted to engage in viewpoint discrimination, nor can they continue to stonewall this group, said ADF-allied attorney Stephen Wesolick, who is also representing Citizens for Life.
The pro-life law firm has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, Western Division and the case is Citizens for Life v. Rapid City Area School District.
A federal judge will hold a hearing on the lawsuit on April 14.
Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.alliancedefensefund.org