Alleging Noblesville High School prevented a freshman from organizing a pro-life club because the group’s “political agenda is not aligned with the administration’s agenda,” the student, her parents and her club, Noblesville Students for Life, have filed a lawsuit against the school and several faculty members for violating the rights of free speech and association.
The plaintiffs, represented by Charitable Allies in Indianapolis, are seeking an unspecified amount in damages along with declarations that the defendants violated the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution along with federal and state laws.
Their complaint — E.D., a minor, b/n/f Michael Duell as parent and next friend of E.D., Lisa Duell as parent and next friend of E.D., and Noblesville Students for Life v. Noblesville School District, Noblesville High School, Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer, Craig McCaffrey, Janae Mobley, Daniel Swafford, Jeremy Luna, Alexandra Snider Pasko, Alison Rootes, Allison Schwingendorf-Haley, Byron Simpson, Elizabeth Kizer, Emily Patterson-Jackson, Grace Tuesca, and Stephanie Eads, 1:21-cv-03075 — was filed Dec. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
“The school district cannot prohibit a student group simply because school administration does not agree with its policy position on important social issues,” Zac Kester, CEO & managing attorney of Charitable Allies, said in a press release. “Public schools should be eager to support an inclusive environment that showcases a variety of viewpoints. Students shouldn’t have to be afraid of teachers and administrators bullying them for their beliefs.”
Noblesville Schools countered E.D. was allowed to form her club, but the organization has been “redirected” because it violated school policy.
“We have had pro-life clubs in past years, and in fact this student’s club was approved, sponsored by high school faculty, and recruiting students this year,” the statement said. “School administration did recently have to redirect this club — not because of the beliefs of the student or mission of the club — but due to multiple instances of disregard for school protocols.”
The school does not identify the specific protocols that were transgressed but does highlight the requirement that the clubs be student organizations.
“All student special interest clubs must be initiated and led by students — they cannot be directed or controlled by school staff or others in the community,” the school’s statement said. “We’re currently working to ensure club compliance with state laws and school policy. Once the club meets these, we will reevaluate their status.”
The plaintiffs have filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking the court to enjoin the defendants from prohibiting E.D. from forming and running her pro-life club.
According to the complaint, E.D. initially received approval from the school administration to organize the Noblesville Students for Life club.
She told the administrators the goal of her group was to “work to develop student leaders and empower students to knowledgeably and courageously speak about abortion. My club will also strive to bring awareness to the abortion issue, and positively impact my peers’ respect and value for life and the unborn.” Also, she stated the club would engage in activities like volunteering at local pregnancy resource centers and participating in national pro-life days.
After E.D. was given permission to participate and advertise her club in the school’s student organization fair held on Aug. 19, she submitted a flyer promoting NSFL to the school for approval. The flyer included a picture of students in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., holding signs that read, “We are the pro-life generation” and “Defund Planned Parenthood.”
On Sept. 3, Noblesville High School Principal Craig McCaffrey sent an email to E.D.’s mother, informing her that NSFL’s status as a student club had been revoked. According to the complaint, McCaffrey’s email stated, “At this point, I am not confident that this club is a student-driven club and therefore am removing the club’s approval to meet in school.”
In the complaint, the plaintiffs assert E.D. was the “only one that was behind setting up NSFL” and her parents were “not responsible for, or controlling” the group. Also, the national organization, Students for Life of America, was not behind the establishment of the Noblesville student club, although SFLA did provide tools for E.D. to use in organizing the group.
The complaint also asserts McCaffrey defamed E.D.’s character in an email sent to every NHS student and parent in his email account after a column appeared in The Times of Noblesville criticizing NHS for discriminating against NSFL.
Also, the complaint points to posts on Facebook about the pro-life club. And, the complaint states, E.D. was intimidated by school officials because she attended a meeting of the Peonies Club — identified as a feminist group at NHS — and took a photo of the PowerPoint presentation. She was told the school prohibits the taking of pictures at school but, the complaint states, the school does not have such a policy.
“NHS is teaching its students that the First Amendment does not apply to some government actors, granting them unbridled discretion to discriminate against student speech because of their viewpoint,” the complaint states. “Therefore, depriving students of the opportunity to be exposed to different and opposing viewpoints.”
A press release from SFLA listed other student clubs at NHS that it said are “not related directly to educational goals,” including Young Democrats, Police Explorers, Black Student Union, Gender and Sexual Alliance, Conservation Club, a Comedy Sports Club and a Dungeons and Dragons group.
The press release also included a statement from E.D.
“I wanted to start this club to inspire like-minded students to advocate for our most vulnerable and point students to resources designed to uplift them in their time of need,” she stated. “I knew some people would disagree with me but I never expected to be attacked online — especially by my teachers.”
The court docket did not list any attorneys representing the defendants.