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PA school bans ‘Abortion is not Healthcare’ T-shirt, ADF files suit

Student ordered to remove shirt because it might insult somebody on day of President’s public school address
Abortion is not Healthcare t-shirt

SCRANTON, Pa. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against the West Shore School District for prohibiting a student from wearing a T-shirt bearing the message, “Abortion is not Healthcare.” Officials at Crossroads Middle School in Lewisberry ordered the student to remove the shirt on the day of President Obama’s public address to students because the officials deemed the shirt “inappropriate,” saying it might insult somebody. The school routinely allows other students to wear a wide variety of messages on their clothing.

“Pro-life students shouldn’t be censored for their views,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “It’s clearly unconstitutional for school officials to prohibit a student’s message on the grounds that someone might not like it. The school routinely allows students to wear a wide variety of messages on their shirts without any concerns, but this student has been singled out even though his shirt caused no disruption and is clearly within the bounds of constitutionally guaranteed free speech.”

The student wore his shirt to express his religious viewpoint on abortion and did so without incident until his fifth period teacher sent him to the principal’s office to see whether the shirt was “appropriate.” There he was ordered to remove his shirt on the grounds that it might insult somebody. He was sent to the nurse’s office, where he turned his shirt inside out because he had no other shirt to wear.

ADF attorneys are challenging two school district policies: One is a “student expression” policy, which prohibits speech that “seek[s] to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view” and speech that “contain[s] material otherwise deemed harmful to impressionable students.” The other is a “dress and grooming” policy that prohibits “clothing which creates a hostile educational environment or evidences discriminatory bias or animus” or displays “inappropriate words.”

“These are highly unconstitutional policies that demonstrate that there’s a widespread need for schools to be educated about the First Amendment. Under the current wording, a student could actually be prevented from saying that his beliefs are true,” Cortman explained. “The policies also allow officials unrestricted discretion in determining what speech violates the policies. In this case, they clearly singled out this student’s pro-life speech and illegitimately censored it.”

ADF-allied attorney Randall Wenger with the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg is assisting with the case, E.B. v. West Shore School District, filed Oct. 5 with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. 

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David A. Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.