Court rules Texas school can forbid gay student club from meeting on campus

TEXAS — A federal court has ruled that Lubbock IndependentSchool District can restrict students’ promotion of sex and sexuality inschool-sponsored activities without violating their First Amendment right tofree speech. U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings ruled March 3 that thedistrict’s “abstinence-only” policy “restricting any discussion of sexualactivity and birth control other than abstinence does not violate the FirstAmendment.” Two Lubbock High School students sued the school districtafter school officials denied their requests to promote the Lubbock Gay-StraightAlliance in school and to hold meetings on campus. The students soughtpermission from the school in September 2002 to advertise their organization’soff-campus meetings by posting fliers and using the school’s public announcementsystem, as did other student groups, according to court documents. The group’smembers then asked the school principal and assistant superintendent forpermission to meet on campus in December 2002. Both requests were denied. The court found that the school’s actions did not constitute an attemptto silence a particular viewpoint, which the First Amendment would haveprohibited. Rather, the court said the school’s restrictions were reasonableefforts to enforce its abstinence-only sex discussion policy. The courtwas concerned about the organization’s Web site — mentioned on its fliers– which included links to Web sites that discussed sex and sexuality.”This case has nothing to do with a denial of rights to students becauseof their sexual viewpoint,” Cummings wrote in his decision. “It is an assertionof a school’s right not to surrender control of the public school system tostudents and erode a community’s standard of what subject matter is consideredobscene and inappropriate.”The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’sruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which allows high school administratorsto censor some school-sponsored student publications by showing they have alegitimate educational reason for doing so. In his ruling, Cummings quotedHazelwood, saying that “a school need not tolerate student speech that isinconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the governmentcould not censor similar speech outside of school.” Cummings’ rulingsuggests administrators at the school could also prohibit school-sponsorednewspapers from publishing articles that conflict with the school’sabstinence-only policy. “If kids aren’t allowed to discuss the benefitsof fact-based sexual education, then the school has censored the people who arein best position to criticize school policy,” Brain Chase, the students’ lawyer,said of student journalists.Chase, an attorney from Lambda Legal Defenseand Education Fund, a national gay civil-rights organization, argued that theschool district cannot deny the Gay-Straight Alliance the right to meet oncampus simply because of the district’s abstinence-only policy. “Thejudge seemed convinced this club was all about discussing sex, which isn’ttrue,” Chase said. “The kids listed many goals, [including discussing]discrimination and bullying, and the judge didn’t mention any of those.” Ann Manning, the school district’s lawyer, said the district was pleasedby the ruling because the court upheld the school’s abstinence-only policy. Shesaid the abstinence-only policy does not discriminate against gay studentsbecause it applies to all students. Manning would not discuss how thedistrict’s abstinence-only policy affects student journalists.Thestudents have not decided whether they will appeal the ruling, Chasesaid.

Caudillo v. Lubbock Indep. School District, 5:03-CV-165-C (Northern Dist. Texas, March 3, 2004)