Superintendent orders Pennsylvania high school newspaper to remove ad for gay support group

A school superintendent ordered an ad for a support group for gay and lesbian teenagers removed and the high school newspaper reprinted last month.

Carol Reisinger, director of Common Roads, said the business card-size ad, which listed contact information and meeting times for the club, had been printed and was ready for distribution in the November issue of Lampeter-Strasburg High School’s Limelight.

Common Roads is a 14-year-old support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers in Central Pennsylvania that holds adult-supervised meetings, Reisinger said. The group is a non-profit organization that is not affiliated with the school.

Evan Macy, Limelight editor, said the newspaper adviser and the principal had approved the ad before Superintendent Robert Frick pulled it. The paper was reprinted without the ad.

Frick did not return calls seeking comment, but he did tell WGAL News 8, a local TV station, that the ad encouraged students to attend “something we know nothing about.”

Macy said he thinks officials were just uncomfortable running an ad from a gay and lesbian group. He believes an ad announcing meetings for a Christian group would never have been pulled from the paper, he said.

Macy said he is circulating a petition calling for the ad’s publication and “a lot of people are signing it.”

“We want to present our argument to the school board,” Macy said of the newspaper’s plans. “The next board meeting is in January so we’ll work towards that.”

Reisinger said Common Roads would like to see the ad in Limelight, but as a non-profit, the organization does not have the money to fight a legal battle over the issue.

SPLC View: As mentioned above, this case raises serious legal questions about whether the censorship at issue was conducted in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. While high school officials can have significant (though never unlimited) authority to regulate what is published in some school-sponsored student publications, most courts still prohibit them from censoring material simply because they disagree with the viewpoint it expresses. In this case, the superintendent suggests that the school does not allow the student paper to publish ads about off-campus groups or meetings unless they have first been investigated, presumably to make sure they are safe for students to attend. While that might be an acceptable reason for regulating ads, such a policy would have to be uniformly enforced against all outside groups (including, as the student editor notes, church groups) and not simply those that express views or hold ideas that some might find controversial.