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School district sued for shutting down conservative club over criticism of ‘flag protesters’

It preemptively threatened their lawyer if he went forward with suit

Can high school students publicly criticize other students who engage in protest during a Veterans Day assembly?

Not in Minnesota’s Edina School District, according to a lawsuit filed today by students who allege it violated their First Amendment rights as well as the U.S. Flag Code in the aftermath of the Nov. 9 observance.

Edina High School shuttered the Young Conservatives Club for its members’ “disrespectful” response to the organized student protest, in which about a dozen students either sat or slouched on the gymnasium floor during the playing of “Taps.”

The five student plaintiffs, only identified by their initials, are challenging a district policy that explicitly allows students to not recite the Pledge of Allegiance but requires students and personnel to “respect another person’s right to make that choice.”

It also claims school policies are unconstitutionally overbroad: They let the school shutter an officially recognized club “at anytime [sic] and for any reason” if its “values and beliefs” do not “coincide” with the school’s.

Unofficial (“non-sponsored”) clubs are “prohibited” if their activities are “contrary to the best interest of a school or … negatively reflect on the reputation of a school,” and their members can be disciplined.

First Amendment and U.S. Flag Code lawsuit against Edina School District for fallout of Veterans Day protes… by The College Fix on Scribd

‘We will not stop until every tentacle of your evil monstrosity is sliced off at the nerve’

According to the suit, the conservative club posted a video of the flag protest on social media and denounced both the protest and the school’s pre-approval and endorsement of the protest. Club members quickly received a “rash of threats” and racism allegations, their lawyer said in a press release.

A response video by “Antifa EHS” was also posted on social media that showed a person in a Guy Fawkes mask, according to the Center of the American Experiment, who allegedly said:

Over the years we have been watching you, your inability to condemn racism, your corruption of the EHS administration, your sanctioning of hate-speech towards innocent ordinary students, all for the purpose of pursuing your alt-right agenda…

This is why we at EHS Anti-fascists have decided your club cannot continue to exists [sic] in its current form. We will not stop until every tentacle of your evil monstrosity is sliced off at the nerve.

According to the Star Tribune, the response video also called on the conservative club members to “apologize for fostering racism in your official GroupMe,” the messaging app in which the students allegedly disparaged the protesters, some of whom were Somali-Americans. The speaker in the video also said “we will be going to the administration” if the club didn’t meet the demands.

The College Fix was unable to find a copy of the threatening video, but Powerline has the audio from it.

The conservative students “left school in fear” the following Monday, according to their lawyer. But Superintendent John Schultz told parents in a Nov. 13 email that there was “no credible or legal threat” against anyone, as revealed by the district’s investigation with town police, according to the Tribune. (The suit disputes this, saying “the video certainly contained threats by any normal definition.”)

(Image courtesy of Alpha News)

No point seeking official recognition: Club would have to censor its speech

According to the suit, Principal Andrew Beaton “demanded” to look at the club president’s phone after he complained about the supposed Antifa video. He viewed the GroupMe chat and video and ordered the student to delete both, saying the posting violated “unidentified EHS policy.”

Beaton then allegedly told the student to either disband the club or face discipline. The student complied.

Because of the club’s shuttering, and because the high school also suspended four participants in the GroupMe chat who are not plaintiffs, club membership plummeted from “about one hundred members to just the handful” who are plaintiffs in the suit.

The suit alleges the club has not bothered trying to get official recognition from the school because it would have to censor its speech about the flag protests – namely, that it would be forced to “respect” the protesters.

This “respect” requirement, and the school’s alleged pre-approval of the flag protest, is in violation of the U.S. Flag Code, according to the suit.

The school district’s lawyer particularly objected to this claim in a warning letter dated Thursday.

Having gotten wind that plaintiffs’ lawyer Erick Kaardal was planning to hold a press conference on “District property” later that day, Trevor Helmers told the lawyer he would be “trespassing” and hinted he would be arrested if he showed up.

Responding to the alleged U.S. Flag Code violation, Helmers wrote:

[T]here is no private cause of action for a lawsuit against a governmental entity upon those grounds. Thus, I would encourage you to please research this issue thoroughly prior to filing a lawsuit, and to remove this frivolous claim. If this type of claim is made, the District will be seeking its costs and fees for having to respond, and would plan to file a Rule 11 sanctions motion [for ‘frivolous arguments’].

Warning letter from Edina School District to lawyer for student conservative club plaintiffs by The College Fix on Scribd

Read the lawsuit and warning letter from the district.

IMAGE: Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.