Carmel High School accused of infringing upon club’s rights after pro-life poster is taken down

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CARMEL, Ind. – Administrators at Carmel High School are being accused of interfering with a pro-life club’s freedom of speech.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to advancing religious freedom,” says administrators removed a poster display created by Carmel Teens for Life after another student complained that it was “offensive.”

The club reportedly spent over 25 hours painting the display which included 300 hearts, each representing 10 lives, to symbolize the written statement “3,000 Lives Are Ended Each Day.”

Liberty Counsel says school officials threw the display away, claiming it impermissibly expressed an “ideology” and was “not approved for display.” The organization says the school should have had the club retrieve it instead.

Liberty Counsel says the posters were approved for display and they complied with club signage guidelines, but school officials took them down because signs are not permitted to “interfere with what folks are thinking or feeling comfortable with.”

Liberty Counsel argues that signs from other organizations promoting issues like LGBT rights are allowed.

Administrators reportedly had members of the club sign an agreement, which prohibits the club from using the word “abortion” in future displays or other forms of communication. Liberty Counsel says the agreement said students couldn’t contact legal assistance or take the agreement to their parents.

The organization says members were threatened that if they did not sign the agreement immediately, the club sponsors would be forced to resign.

“By allowing other student clubs to post their viewpoints throughout the school while banning a poster from Carmel Teens for Life, the school has engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Schools also may not censor pro-life viewpoints. The actions of the school officials are outrageous. Not only did they censor protected speech, they threatened students with retaliation if they sought legal counsel. We will hold this school and these officials accountable.”

CBS4 reached out to Carmel Clay Schools for comment. Officials released the following statement:

Late in the afternoon on December 5, 2016, Carmel Clay Schools received a letter from Liberty Counsel claiming that Carmel High School had violated the rights of certain Carmel High School students.  That letter requested a response to its claims by December 12, 2016.

CCS immediately referred this letter to its legal counsel for review and response.  Less than 24 hours after receiving the letter, CCS counsel contacted Liberty Counsel in an effort to amicably resolve the situation and offered to provide a preliminary response by December 16, 2016. Liberty Counsel thanked CCS for its candor and willingness to investigate. Today, contrary to its conversations with CCS, Liberty Counsel chose to air its side of the situation publicly.

Carmel Clay Schools’ staff and administration are treating the claims made in this letter very seriously. We are reviewing the matter to determine what happened and to respond to our students and community in an appropriate and respectful manner.

Carmel Clay Schools subsequently released an additional statement regarding this matter:

Carmel Clay Schools supports the rights of its students to express their opinions and our school clubs are one opportunity for students to do so, as long as they operate within reasonable guidelines.   We give serious consideration to any claim that a student’s rights have been violated.  We are in the process of thoroughly reviewing the claims to determine what happened and respond accordingly.

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