Student Free Speech Rights Validated
Special Report - December 28, 2009
The free speech rights of a North Carolina high school student who was prohibited by school officials from expressing her pro-life beliefs have been restored, after the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) sent a letter to the school on the student’s behalf. The incident occurred on October 20, 2009, when Brianna Caldwell, who attends Randleman High School in Randleman, NC, attempted to participate in the Pro-Life Day of Solidarity, an international pro-life event that encourages students to pray and draw attention to the 46 million children who have been aborted in this country. Students wear pro-life T-shirts or red armbands, and distribute fliers explaining their actions. In North Carolina, students at 180 schools participated in the event. On October 20, Brianna wore a T-shirt to school that featured the word “abortion” crossed out, and began distributing pro-life fliers to interested students during non-instructional time. According to ADF, the assistant principal told Brianna to cover up her shirt and ordered her to stop distributing the fliers because both “were offensive and violated the separation of church and state.” In addition, the assistant principal took Brianna’s fliers, and refused to return them upon request.
Brianna and her parents contacted ADF about the school’s actions, and ADF sent a letter to school officials on November 24. The letter, which was signed by ADF’s senior legal counsel, David Cortmann, stated: “It is our opinion that the denial of her literature and the display of the pro-life message on Brianna’s t-shirt violated her rights.” The letter requested that the school respond to the letter by a specific date and “assure us that the free speech rights of students such as Brianna will be respected on campus.” It also asked the school to “immediately” allow Brianna to “distribute her religious literature, wear her pro-life or similar t-shirts, and otherwise engage in religious speech on campus,” and that her fliers be returned.
According to ADF, the assistant principal at Randleman High School responded to the letter by returning the fliers to Brianna and informing her that “she would be able to wear her T-shirt and distribute her fliers in the future.”
“Pro-life students shouldn’t be punished for expressing their beliefs,” Cortman said in an ADF press release. “Brianna was simply exercising her constitutionally protected right to free speech but was censored by school officials fearful of urban legends regarding the so-called ‘separation of church and state.’ In reality, silencing pro-life students simply because they want to exercise their First Amendment rights in a non-disruptive manner is unconstitutional.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.