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North Dakota Schools Accused Of Blocking Pro-Life Clubs

Two students seeking to start school pro-life clubs in Fargo, North Dakota, are claiming they are victims of unconstitutional discrimination from officials opposed to their cause.

According to a complaint letter sent by the Thomas More Society (TMS), a public interest law firm assisting the students, Brigid O’Keefe of Fargo North High School and Katie McPherson of Fargo Davies High School have each spent months attempting to establish pro-life clubs at their schools, to no avail. McPherson first applied to found a club in September 2014, while O’Keefe applied last February. Both had their applications declined, with O’Keefe saying she and other potential club members were subjected to close scrutiny of their religious beliefs.

Instead of approving the organizations as official school clubs, the Fargo School District has decided to classify each of them as “outside agencies,” according to TMS. That means they can’t put up advertisements for the groups in school, can’t host school events, and can’t include include a school name in the names of the clubs.

“The School District and administrators at Fargo North and Davies High Schools are treating pro-life students as second class citizens, forcing them to abide by a policy that was designed to protect students from exploitation by businesses, not to censor the students’ own free speech,” Jocelyn Floyd, an associate counsel with TMS, said in the society’s statement. The policy Floyd refers to is Fargo’s District Solicitation Policy, which is intended to prevent companies from engaging in school-sanctioned direct advertising to students.

TMS demands that the district immediately recognize both organizations as regular student clubs. According to the society, Fargo’s schools currently or in the past have had several other student organizations which possess an ideological bent but are still recognized as full clubs, includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes groups and gay/straight alliances.

According to the complaint letter, officials at Fargo North actually distinguished between a gay/straight alliance and pro-life club, saying that the former was acceptable because it dealt with a “protected” group, while the pro-life movement enjoys no such protections. At Davies, meanwhile, denial was based on the fact that even though the group was explicitly not religious in nature, it would inevitably take on a religious tone because of the beliefs of its members.

A request for comment from Fargo Public Schools was not immediately returned.

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