NAPA, Calif., April 11, 2018 Life Legal was at the campus of Rocklin High School in Northern California this morning as students walked out of class to honor the lives of babies killed by abortion. Rocklin student Brandon Gillespie was inspired to organize the Pro-life Walkout after one of his teachers was disciplined for questioning whether pro-life students would be afforded the same rights as students who participated in the National School Walkout for more stringent gun control.
History teacher Julianne Benzel was placed on leave after she asked her students whether schools allowing the walkouts would “give the same courtesy to another group of students who wanted to get up and walk out to protest other issues—like abortion?”
Rocklin High School facilitated the students’ pro-gun control protest by instructing teachers to modify their lesson plans for the walkout and by providing students with a forum to speak about gun legislation in the school’s amphitheater. The walkout commemorated the lives of students and teachers who were gunned down at a Parkland, Florida high school as students called for stricter gun-control laws.
Gillespie requested the same provisions for the Pro-Life Walkout, which commemorated the lives of hundreds of thousands of children across the country who are killed by abortion each year and called for legislation to protect the unborn. However, school officials denied pro-life students the requested accommodations, saying that the Pro-Life Walkout “associates the school with a position of non-neutrality on a matter that is extremely controversial.”
Life Legal sent a letter to Rocklin High School Principal Davis Stewart earlier in the week apprising him of his obligations to treat Brandon and his fellow students the same as the National School Walkout students.
“Brandon Gillespie is going to conduct his activity in the same manner as the previous walkout and expects to be treated in the exact same manner as the students who participated in the gun walkout,” wrote Life Legal Senior Staff Counsel Allison K. Aranda. “I am writing to you in order to ensure that Brandon’s First Amendment and Equal Protection rights are safeguarded.”
Courts have held that “once a forum is opened for the expression of views, regardless of how unusual the forum, under the dual mandate of the first amendment and the equal protection clause neither the government nor any private censor may pick and choose between those views which may or may not be expressed.” Moreover, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that public officials may not prohibit communication merely because they “disapprove of the speaker’s views.”
“We applaud students who are willing to stand up for the millions of their would-be peers who never had a chance at life,” said Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Snyder. “Rocklin High School opened the door to protected speech by permitting the March walkout. The school cannot now discriminate against Brandon Gillespie and other pro-life students by based on favoritism toward a particular viewpoint.”