Virginia High School Reverses Decision, Allows Pro-Life Club to Start Immediately

By Brittany M. Hughes | November 17, 2014 | 11:16 AM EST

FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2013 file photo, an abortion protester stands outside the Red River Valley Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo, N.D. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack, File)

(CNSNews.com) - After nearly two months of debate, confusion and legal pressure, a Virginia high school student finally won the right to start a pro-life club at her school, effective immediately.

Courtland High School granted Madison Sutherland, a senior, the right to start the club after initially banning the group for a host of reasons, including an alleged incomplete application and the club’s lack of a relationship to the school’s curriculum, according to a news release from Students for Life of America.

After the school’s principal, Larry Marks, repeatedly hindered Sutherland’s efforts to start the club, the high school student enlisted the help of the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, CNSNews.com previously reported. The law firm sent Marks a demand letter last week requesting he reverse his initial decision and allow Sutherland to start her club.

Marks eventually agreed to allow the group, but not until next year – well after Sutherland and her fellow pro-life senior students would have graduated. But on Friday, Marks appeared to rethink the decision and requested that the Spotsylvania County School Board grant Sutherland permission to begin meeting with her fellow pro-life students immediately.

Citing “unique circumstances” in their official response, the school board agreed to allow the club.

“I am so excited that the school granted my request to start the pro-life club immediately,” Sutherland said in the news release, adding she plans to use the club “to educate my peers on alternatives to abortion, attend the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., and support expectant mothers through a local pregnancy resource center.”

Students for Life of America called the school’s decision a “huge win” for Sutherland and the pro-life movement.

“This is a huge victory for Maddie and should encourage any pro-life student to fight for the right to start a pro-life club at their school,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.

“High school pro-life clubs are often where the first fires of pro-life activism are lit and Maddie will have the opportunity now to educate her peers on the pro-life position on abortion. Maddie is a great example of courage for standing up for her pro-life beliefs and fighting to protect the rights of the preborn.”

“Just as students don’t lose their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates, high school seniors don’t lose their First Amendment rights simply because they’re in their last year of school,” said Jocelyn Floyd, an attorney with the Thomas More Society.

“While we’re saddened that it took legal intervention to get the school to act, we’re thrilled that the school has now explicitly acknowledged their commitment to free speech ideals and protected Maddie and her fellow seniors’ core First Amendment rights to speak about life on campus at Courtland High School,” Floyd added.

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