Human Rights

Fargo school district faces demand to approve pro-life student club after discrimination accusations

The ongoing battle between the Fargo, ND, school district and students trying to start pro-life clubs on two of the district’s campuses continues this week. The legal group Thomas More Society, which represents the students, issued a second demand letter to the school district’s attorney, asking that the clubs be approved within a week.

The original complaint notes that the refusal to pro-life clubs constitutes a violation of students’ rights, as well as a violation of both the Federal Equal Access Act (EAA) and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The district issued a statement saying it would never discriminate against students, arguing that the students had never submitted the proper paperwork for the clubs. However, the Thomas More Society says paperwork was never mentioned. The legal group is demanding that the district grant clubs approval by April 28, one week from now.

In the letter to Joseph A. Wetch, Jr., the district’s attorney, the Thomas More Society notes:

“Katie McPherson and Davies Teens for Life were never permitted to submit the formal application to Davies High School. We have attached her completed application here and request you forward it to your client and direct it to complete the approval process posthaste, as the students have now been waiting over eight months to form their club.
“Brigid O’Keefe and Spartans for life have already submitted an application in accordance with all the requirements of Fargo Public Schools Administrative Policy 4511, to the administration at North High School. The administration denied that application, as previously stated, for reasons that violate the Equal Access Act (namely the “controversial “nature of the subject and fear of permitting religion, even though the club is and has always been secular). Now that your client has conceded that it will abide by the requirements of the Equal Access Act, please direct it to approve Ms. O’keefe’s prior-submitted application.”

Jocelyn Floyd, associate counsel with the Thomas More Society, said:

“We appreciate that Fargo Public School District No. 1 is now committed to ensuring that its schools fully respect students’ legal rights. We expect that pro-life clubs at Davies and North High Schools will be established shortly and with same rights and privileges and all student clubs.”

McPherson has been trying to start a Students for Life club at Davies High School since 2014. At Fargo North,  “O’Keefe found an advisor and submitted her application to start a Students for Life club in February 2015. School administrators interrogated her and other prospective club members, asking questions about their religious affiliations, before denying the club.” Both girls are sophomores at their respective schools.

In response to the controversy, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said:

“The school district has illegally delayed approval of both Students for Life clubs long enough. Both Brigid and Katie have been trying to start their clubs for months and have only been met with resistance and discrimination from the Fargo school district. Being pro-life isn’t a reason to deny students the right to start Students for Life clubs.”

The Thomas More Society, Hawkins, and students involved express a desire to see an end to the discrimination of pro-life clubs in the Fargo School District.

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