A group of conservative Minnesota public high school students has filed a federal lawsuit against their school district that alleges their First Amendment rights were violated when school officials ordered the disbanding of their club last month after they criticized other students carrying out flag protests during a Veterans Day assembly.
The plaintiffs, five members of the Young Conservatives Club as well as their parents, say Edina Public Schools officials squashed their free speech rights when they banned the club from the suburban Minneapolis school district after its members spoke out on social media against fellow students who sat during the playing of the national anthem and “Taps” during the assembly.
The conservative students also say that a school policy requiring that they “respect” other student protests violates their First Amendment rights, because the vaguely written policy could “unlawfully compel” their speech.
“Edina High School has essentially declared itself to be ‘big brother’ — to ensure that students ‘think correctly’ about the U.S. flag, political and social issues,” said Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing the students.
School officials decided to ban the group after club members posted video of students protesting at the assembly on the social media app GroupMe, according to the lawsuit. Some of the comments to the GroupMe posting included disparaging and racist remarks about the protesters. The conservative students noted in their lawsuit that people who were not members of their club had access to their GroupMe posting and the ability to comment on it.
Someone else, using the handle Edina High School Anti-Fascists and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, posted an image of the GroupMe posting on a since-deleted YouTube video and threatened the members of the Young Conservatives Club, the plaintiffs allege.
The club’s president, Nick Spades, complained to Edina High School principal Andrew Beaton about the threatening YouTube message. He said the principal demanded he show him the GroupMe posting, and after viewing it told him that the posting of the protesters — as well as the disparaging comments — violated the school’s policies.
Spade said the principal then demanded he not only delete the GroupMe site, but also disband the Young Conservatives Club or face discipline for being in violation of an unspecified policy.
“Our club was disbanded … because we were accused of being intolerant of student protesters during a Veterans Day assembly at our school,” Spades said. “This complete lack of respect, and the fact that school administration did nothing about it, is one of the reasons that we’re here today.”
The district said in a statement that it “respects and adheres to state statute and federal law in regard to the free speech rights of all students and staff.” A school spokeswoman declined to comment on the specific allegations made in the lawsuit.
But the district said in a statement it “respects and adheres to state statute and federal law in regard to the free speech rights of all students and staff and welcomes opportunities for ongoing discourse and respectful debate on topics of importance to our stakeholders.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare school’s speech policy unconstitutional, and seeks the reinstatement of the club.
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