Life Legal Defense Foundation Senior Staff Attorney, Allison K. Aranda, appeared in federal court last week, arguing that the Jackson Public School District (JSPD) violated the civil rights of several members of a campus outreach team run by Survivors, a national youth organization dedicated to educating high school and college age students about the truth of abortion.
In 2012, JPSD campus enforcement officers wrongfully arrested Kristina Garza and Brianna Baxter outside of Murrah High School for standing on the public sidewalk and peacefully distributing literature to students leaving school.
JPSD officials originally ordered the young women to leave the sidewalk, claiming that it was private property. This same sidewalk is open to the public and is used by students and members of the community every day. Later, JPSD officials told the police a different story, claiming that Ms. Garza and Ms. Baxter hung from school buses and engaged in disorderly conduct. Video and photographic evidence, as well as eyewitness testimony from students, shows that these young women merely engaged in peaceful free speech activities. At no time did they violate the law.
The facts are virtually undisputed since there are several video recordings of the events. JPSD lawyers tried to justify the District’s actions claiming they have the right to exclude members of the public from the sidewalk during school dismissal.
“As a matter of constitutional law, citizens have a right to engage in free speech on a public sidewalk,” stated Ms. Aranda. “The law is clear. Students and the public have the right to engage in peaceful, non-disruptive free speech on the public sidewalk adjacent to schools.”
The real culprits here are the JPSD officials who intimidated and threatened Ms. Garza and Ms. Baxter and violated their constitutional rights. JPSD officials admit that they tried to prevent Ms. Garza and Ms. Baxter from handing out leaflets, a clear violation of the Survivors’ first amendment right to free speech. Campus Enforcement Officer Sgt. Dunson stated in his own police report, “The officers used their hands and arms as human barricades in an attempt to keep the [Survivors] from handing out their material.”
What’s even worse is the way these pro-life advocates were treated while in jail on these baseless charges.
Officers abused and harassed the young girls because of their pro-life message. The Sheriff’s Department took an inordinate amount of time to book the girls, ignored their repeated requests for food and water, refused to permit them to call their attorney, and shuttled the girls to multiple detention centers before they were finally taken in front of a judge.
Even then, the girls weren’t released for several more hours. They were held in jail and mistreated for more than 24 hours for simply speaking to young people about the perils of abortion.
Judge Henry T. Wingate is expected to rule on Life Legal’s motion in the coming weeks. Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director for the Life Legal Defense Foundation, states, “We are proud to represent these courageous young people who speak the truth and stand for what is right in the face of adversity. We are confident that the court will restore the right to engage in peaceful free speech activity on the public sidewalks in the City of Jackson and vindicate these young ladies’ rights.”
Please help Life Legal continue to defend pro-life advocacy in the public square by making a donation today!