Spokane Community Colleges Settle Lawsuit Over Discrimination Against Pro-Lifers

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 28, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Spokane Community Colleges Settle Lawsuit Over Discrimination Against Pro-Lifers

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
September 28
, 2009

Spokane, WA (LifeNews.com) — Community Colleges of Spokane and Spokane Falls Community College officials agreed to a court order Thursday that settles a lawsuit filed after they attempted to unconstitutionally silence the pro-life message of a student group. SFCC officials had threatened student Beth Sheeran.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life law firm, filed suit in March against the schools over allegations that they violated the constitutional rights of pro-life students.

SFCC officials reportedly threatened Sheeran and members of a student group with disciplinary measures, including expulsion, if they chose to hold a pro-life event on campus.

College officials claimed the event would be “discriminatory” because it would not include a pro-abortion viewpoint.

Alliance Defense Fund officials told LifeNews.com today that the agreed-upon court order eliminates or revises the problematic policies and programs that led to the unconstitutional treatment of the student organization.

“Christian pro-life students shouldn’t be silenced, discriminated against, and threatened with expulsion for attempting to share their beliefs on public college campuses,” Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker said.

“We are pleased that the college officials have agreed to change their unconstitutional policies and programs so that pro-life students can voice their viewpoints, just like any other group of students on campus," she told LifeNews.com.

The firm indicated SFCC Director of Student Funded Programs Heather McKenzie rejected Sheeran’s request to hold a pro-life event on campus on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The event would have involved flier distribution and materials posted in an announcement display case in the student center.

McKenzie said college policy prohibits one-sided events and expressive displays on campus and that the pro-life display would not be allowed because it did not include any pro-abortion viewpoints.

As a member of SFCC’s “Stop the Hate” committee, McKenzie told Sheeran that her “biased” event fell under the program’s jurisdiction because of its “discriminatory” pro-life message and because someone might construe statistics cited in their literature — breaking down the number of abortions by ethnic group — as hate.

SFCC Associate Dean of Student Services and “Stop the Hate” committee chair Gregory Roberts eventually told Sheeran that the group could hold the event if its members voted in favor of it.

After a vote, ADF said Roberts, McKenzie, and the group’s faculty advisor, Stormy Kurtz, went to a club meeting and intimidated the students into not holding the event.

Kurtz reportedly told the students that their flier was “offensive” and that their event violated the district’s “Stop the Hate” policy and Washington law. She added that the students would face expulsion if they “offended” anyone.

Out of fear of disciplinary action, Sheeran and the fellowship never held the event.

The order issued by the court requires the college district to revise its policies and procedures, requires revision of certain Washington state administrative codes, and modifies the “Stop the Hate” program’s unconstitutional provisions.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Sheeran v. Shea, against college officials in March, and Hacker presented oral argument in a hearing at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in April.

ADF-allied attorney Jeffrey Smith of The Smith Law Group in Spokane served as local counsel in the case.

Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org

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