The new “Sharks 4 Life” club at Gulf Coast High School in Naples, Florida held its first official event this week, after school and district officials relented from their refusal to grant official recognition to the pro-life club. The school originally denied the application because the pro-life club, whose subject matter included abortion, was deemed “too political” and “controversial.”
You may recall from The Daily Citizen’s earlier coverage of this controversy that a young student named Gabrielle Gabbard approached the school administration with a request back in August to form a student pro-life club that would be affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. Gabbard and her faculty advisors were not only refused, but the faculty advisors were allegedly threatened with termination if they persisted in helping Gabbard.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent the school and school district a letter explaining that such action violated not only the First Amendment’s free speech clause, but also the federal Equal Access Act.
The good news is that the school then agreed to recognize the club and certified a faculty advisor for it. That resulted in the new club’s event this week, which is a victory for Ms. Gabbard and her club, as well as for the First Amendment.
In a press statement, ADF attorney Michael Ross said, “The First Amendment protects every student’s freedom of speech and expression. Public school officials also can’t play favorites when approving student organizations or 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.”
But the controversy is not completely settled, because while the school granted the club official recognition, it imposed a requirement it does not impose on other non-curricular clubs: the club must get school approval for any information it wants to distribute, and the school may refuse to allow—at its sole discretion—any information it decides it doesn’t like.
As ADF explained in a second letter to the school principal, such censorship is also unconstitutional and a violation of the Equal Access Act. There’s been no word yet on whether the school intends to go forward with its threat to censor Sharks 4 Life.