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Pro-life students say school officials threatened them if they sought legal help

Adoption message is ‘offensive’ to one student

When Carmel High School officials tore down a display created by pro-life students that had taken 25 hours to complete – after a student complained it was “offensive” – Carmel Teens for Life was miffed.

The display bore approval marks from the office that regulates student signage, and other signs from Democratic and LGBTQ student groups had been posted and left alone.

But the pro-life group was frightened when officials at the Indiana school threatened to force its leaders to resign, “jeopardizing the club’s existence,” if they didn’t “immediately” sign an agreement that waived their right to seek “legal assistance” in response to the school’s actions, LifeNews.com reports:

School personnel had also demanded the Carmel Teens for Life student members sign an agreement prohibiting club members from using the word “abortion” in any club communications, verbal or written, including on Facebook, school posters and other official correspondence. … The students were not allowed to take the agreement home or to discuss it with their parents.

School officials backed down when religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel threatened to sue for First Amendment violations, agreeing to let the students rehang their poster – which promotes adoption over abortion – for 10 days. It still claimed that student-made signs are “not allowed to advocate a club’s agenda or cause.”

MORE: Pro-life club told it can’t use ‘abortion’ on club sign

Carmel Clay Schools said school officials “did not believe [the original sign] met club signage guidelines and had not received the proper approval by administration.”

Liberty Counsel claimed the principal and assistant principal had said the sign – actually several smaller signs arranged into one large display – was not allowed to “interfere with what folks are thinking or feeling comfortable with.”

According to the Indianapolis Star, the school district says signs can only include “time, date and place of meetings” for student clubs, not “messages.”

The school district also punished the club because its own rules were ambiguous:

The dispute arose after the students in Teens for Life got a little creative. Club members can hang up to 10 signs and display them in the cafeteria.

The club taped their 10 signs together to create one large banner and hung it in the cafeteria. …

MORE: University ditches ‘diversity grant’ rather than give it to pro-life group

Some basic facts remain in dispute. [Carmel Teens for Life President Mary Carmen] Zakrajsek says administrators approved the sign, which is a school requirement, before it was put up.  Hung during National Adoption Month, the word “abortion” was altered to say “adoption.”

[District spokesperson Tammy] Sander, though, said text was added after the banner was approved, which Zakrajsek disputes.

Zakrajsek also said it was unclear to her that signs could only contain times, dates and places of meetings, not other messages. She recalled seeing a sign for Carmel High School Democrats that included an image of a donkey.

The Indiana Family Institute is using the dispute to promote a state bill to expand students’ rights to freely express their religious views “in homework, artwork and other assignments,” as well as on their clothing, and to create a “limited public forum” for such viewpoints at school events.

Read the LifeNews.com story and Star report.

MORE: College policies still unconstitutional after pro-life club allowed to form

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