A Florida state high school rejected the creation of a pro-life student organization because it was too “political” and “controversial,” while accepting animal rights groups, denounced the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

In August, Gabrielle Gabbard, a student at Gulf Coast High School, after applying for recognition of the pro-life group “Sharks 4 Life” at school, arranged an interview with Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown, and she came with her university advisers.

Brown not only refused to recognize the group during the interview, but even threatened Gabbard’s advisers with dismissal if they continued to support the initiative.

In response, ADF sent a letter last Thursday to officials at Collier County Public Schools and Gulf Coast High School.

“The School District’s and Ms. Crawford-Brown’s failure to recognize Sharks 4 Life is blatantly illegal under the Equal Access Act and First Amendment, both of which guarantee Ms. Gabbard’s 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 states.

Calling the measure discriminatory, the organization urged the acceptance on campus of the independent pro-life club “Sharks 4 Life” (affiliated with Students for Life), and to change their district policies.

“To prevent Collier County from denying full access to clubs or indefinitely delaying a decision on any student club in the future, and in light of Ms. Crawford-Brown’s open intimidation,” the letter continued, “we also request that, by November 21, 2019, the Collier County School Board agree to update Procedure ap2430 to specify that all of its schools will timely consider all requests to start new student clubs and that, in compliance with the Equal Access Act,” it determined, warning that otherwise ADF will seek “other avenues” to assert the rights of its clients.

Unconstitutionality and violation of Federal Law

“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,” ADF legal counsel Michael Ross added in a subsequent statement, specifying that it is clearly unconstitutional and violates the federal Equal Access Act.

In that context, Ross pointed out that among the 78 different clubs that make up the Gulf Coast High School campus are groups such as the Collier for Change Students affiliated with the Florida Democratic Party, the Animal Rights Club, the Community of Christian Athletes and the Gay Straight Alliance.

“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,” Ross continued.

“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” said ADF President Kristan Hawkins.

“But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly,” he concluded.

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