Iowa Civil Liberties Union Defends Right of Students to Wear Anti-Abortion T-Shirts

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
April 29, 2005 12:00 am

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DES MOINES – The Iowa Civil Liberties Union today blasted school officials for threatening to punish two teenage girls who wore anti-abortion T-shirts to school. The group also offered to assist the students in their quest to continue wearing the shirts at school.

“These students had their free speech rights violated, and the ICLU stands ready to defend them,” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the ICLU. “This appears to be a clear case of government abuse of power, and it must be stopped.”

Roosevelt High School students Tamera Chandler, 18, and her sister, Brittany Chandler, 15, this week wore T-shirts displaying a picture of a fetus and the words, “Abortion Kills Kids.” School officials apparently told them to cover up the shirts or face punishment.

The ICLU said that the fact that these girls attend Roosevelt High School is particularly ironic because the school was the site of a famous 1960s lawsuit involving the right of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. That lawsuit, Tinker v. Des Moines, was also brought by the ICLU.

The 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker, which affirmed the right of students to wear the armbands, to this day is invoked to protect the right of students like the Chandlers to express their views, so long as their speech does not “materially and substantially interfere with the learning environment.”

“This case clearly demonstrates the beauty of the First Amendment,” Stone said. “A case brought by the ICLU in the 1960s to defend the rights of anti-war protesters is being used 35 years later to defend the rights of students who oppose abortion. When you defend the rights of one person to speak, you defend the rights of all to speak.”

Other ACLU affiliates across the country are currently involved in similar cases. Earlier this month in Missouri, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 15-year-old student who was punished for wearing a homemade T-shirt displaying the message, “I Support Gay Rights!” And in Florida, the Broward County School Board agreed last week to amend school rules after the ACLU came to the defense of a student who was punished for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt.

The ICLU, which staunchly defends the reproductive rights of women, also has a long track record of defending the rights of anti-abortion and conservative Christian groups.

In 1990, the Iowa affiliate of the ACLU successfully represented an anti-abortion group in a dispute with Iowa City over an unconstitutional parade ordinance. In 1995, a conservative Christian activist, Elaine Jaquith of Waterloo, had her rights vindicated by the ICLU in a case involving her free speech rights on public access television. Conservative Christians in Clarke County in 1997 won the right to force a county referendum on gambling after the ICLU took up their case.

In addition, the ICLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in 2002 in support of the right of students in Davenport schools to distribute Christian literature, including Bibles, during non-instructional time. The school eventually backed down and allowed the literature to be distributed.

“When the ACLU and ICLU say we defend everyone’s rights, we mean it,” said Stone.

For more information on the ACLU’s work defending religious liberty, go to /node/.

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