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IN THE COURTS | Antiabortion Group Files Suit Against S.D. School District for Denying Requests To Hold Meetings in School

IN THE COURTS | Antiabortion Group Files Suit Against S.D. School District for Denying Requests To Hold Meetings in School
[Feb. 7, 2008]

On Monday, the Rapid City, S.D.-based antiabortion group Citizens for Life filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Rapid City Area Schools because the group's requests to hold events in the district's Dakota Middle School were denied, the Rapid City Journal reports.

According to the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the group, Citizens for Life President Allen Carlson in August 2006 asked to use the school's auditorium to host an antiabortion speaker. In October 2006, the school denied Carlson's request but did not provide a reason, the suit says. Carlson in June 2007 applied again to use the school's auditorium. School officials denied the request, saying Citizens for Life's message was "too controversial." The group has requested to use the auditorium in May 2008, the Journal reports.

The suit alleges that the school's community-use policy is "unconstitutionally vague" and violates free-speech rights. The policy states that "use of school facilities will be granted only when a proposed activity is suited to the available facility." The policy also says that school facilities "shall not be used for political purposes" and that requests to host politically associated events will be handled on an individual basis. The district's policy for community use states that "all nonprofit civic educational and charitable meetings or activities" can use its buildings at no cost as long as the activity does not conflict with district policies or the law. ADF on three occasions requested copies of records indicating which groups had used school facilities, but school officials said they do not maintain such records and have not yet fully responded to the request, the Journal reports.

The suit asks a judge to determine whether the school's policy is constitutional and whether Citizens for Life will be able to use school facilities for its May event, Stephen Wesolick, a local attorney for the group, said. Wesolick said the district has three weeks to reply to the suit, adding that at that time a hearing date will be set.


Talbot Wieczorek, an attorney for the district, said district officials believe the policy is sound and plan to file a response after reviewing the suit. "The school district feels that their policy meets the requirements under the law," Wieczorek said.

Byron Babione, senior legal counsel for ADF, in a statement said that antiabortion groups "shouldn't be discriminated against for their beliefs," adding that they have the "same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America." He added that Citizens for Life's "equal-access rights" to the school's facilities "must be honored regardless of whether school district officials agree with the group's message" (Gahagan, Rapid City Journal, 2/6).