Federal Judge Order Guarantees Free Speech at Michigan high school
Free speech provisions apply to underage dissidents, too.
Skyline H.S. - Ann Arbor, Michigan. Credit: Dwight Burdette, Wikimedia.
Finding that Skyline High School sought “to silence Plaintiffs’ appropriate speech as to Proposal 3,” Federal District Court Judge, Paul D. Borman, on November 4, ordered the school to read the conservative senior and Republican Club President’s statement “over the Skyline High School’s public address service during ordinary announcements on Monday, November 7, 2022.”
The Court granted the Plaintiffs’ request for a Temporary Restraining Order once the announcement was modified to meet the Court’s concern. Nevertheless, despite Skyline’s continued objection to the modified announcement, the Court ordered the following announcement to be read:
Are you interested in joining our efforts to protect the health of women
If proposal 3 is passed it would eliminate health and safety regulations,
legalize late term and partial birth abortion, no longer require
physicians to perform abortions, and eliminate informed consent laws.
If so, email us at skylinerepublicanclub@gmail. com
On November 1, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed the federal lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the Ann Arbor Public Schools and officials of Skyline High School located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The lawsuit, claiming blatant discrimination, alleging several violations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Access Act, was filed on behalf of David Nielsen and his minor son, (“Plaintiff”), a senior and president of the Republican Club and the Republican Club as a separate plaintiff.
Erin Mersino, TMLC’s Chief of Supreme Court and Appellate Practice is handling the case. She commented, “The Constitution protects a student’s right to have a different viewpoint from others and share it within the walls of a public school. How else will students learn tolerance toward opinions to which they disagree or how to thrive in our pluralistic society?” The Supreme Court cautioned against viewpoint discrimination in the schools, warning it creates “enclaves of totalitarianism.”
Attorneys Erin Mersino and Monica Galloway of Thomas More Law Center
Richard Thompson, TMLC President, stressed that one of TMLC’s main goals is defending students’ rights: “Public schools across our nation are stifling the free speech of conservative students and organizations. We are working to defend their constitutional rights — rights which the Supreme Court so famously said, they do not lose by merely entering the schoolhouse gate.”
Skyline High School officials routinely have allowed students and student groups to share pro-choice and left leaning viewpoints over its public address system to promote abortion, Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood. The school has also allowed student clubs to promote the Black Lives Matter movement, express views on the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial, promote the idea of climate change, and promote the visit of a democratic congresswoman seeking re-election. In short, Skyline High School’s record shows it does not hesitate to share certain viewpoints over the morning announcements.
After Plaintiffs submitted their announcement, they received an email from the school stating that “your announcement is not going to be read or posted due to its political nature.” That same day, Plaintiffs met with the principal’s secretary who rejected the announcement and confirmed that the announcement was not read because, in his opinion, it was “political.” Given the school’s history of allowing other viewpoints to be shared freely, the school’s process and decision did not appear fair.
TMLC then sent a letter to the Ann Arbor Public Schools on behalf of Plaintiffs, requesting that the announcement be read. A few days later, they responded to TMLC but denied wrongdoing, while continuing to censor Plaintiffs’ speech. The next day, on November 1, TMLC filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The lawsuit, which claims blatant discrimination, alleges that the school violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the Equal Access Act.
On November 2, TMLC filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, asking the Court to require that the announcement be shared over the school’s public address system at the earliest possible time. The Court held a hearing on November 4. The hearing lasted approximately 1.5 hours. At the end of the hearing, Judge Borman announced that the motion would be granted and published his ruling shortly afterward.
In his ruling, Judge Borman found that the “Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim” and further that “Defendants seek to silence Plaintiffs’ appropriate speech by refusing to broadcast it with their morning announcements.”
Judge Borman’s order respects the idea that all students and student clubs should be treated equally, and none favored.
Read Motion for Temporary Restraining Order here.
Read Judge Borman's grant of Temporary Restraining Order here.