Las Vegas Pro-Life Students Prevail in Federal Lawsuit Over Suppression of Views

Students were not allowed to post pro-life material even though pro-choice posters were present at their school.
Las Vegas Pro-Life Students Prevail in Federal Lawsuit Over Suppression of Views
Pro-life demonstrators protest outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, on May 29, 2021. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

Pro-life high school students in the fifth-largest school district in the United States are claiming victory after a local school district settled a lawsuit about students being denied free speech rights.

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas recently entered into a settlement agreement with a Students for Life club at East Career and Technical Academy (ECTA), a public magnet secondary school, and two former students at the school. The agreement ends the district’s prohibition of pro-life speech and protects against future bans throughout the district’s more than 300 schools.
During negotiations, the school district also agreed to revise the district’s handbook and issued a memorandum affirming the constitutionally protected free speech rights of students.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, welcomed the settlement in a statement.

“As hostile attacks on pro-life free speech steadily grow, Students for Life of America will not allow school administrations to overlook or instigate First Amendment violations against the Pro-Life Generation,” she said.

Ms. Hawkins said free speech includes pro-life speech.

“Pro-life students will always be a voice for the voiceless, and Students for Life of America will ensure their freedom to do so is respected,” she said.

After the settlement was filed with a federal court in Nevada, Judge Richard F. Boulware II, who was appointed in 2014 by President Barack Obama, ordered that the case, East Career and Technical Academy Students for Life v. Clark County School District, be dismissed with prejudice on Feb. 22. A lawsuit dismissed with prejudice cannot be litigated again.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in September 2022. Felipe Avila, founder of ECTA Students for Life, reached out to Students for Life of America, a national organization that supports student pro-life clubs. Students for Life of America then called in a legal team from the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm specializing in religious freedoms.

Mr. Avila—now a nursing student at the Catholic University of America—and co-plaintiff Janelle Rivera had served as officers of the club at ECTA.

After nearly three years of facing restrictions on their pro-life speech by the school administrators, Mr. Avila and Ms. Rivera decided to file a lawsuit against the school, the district, and the administrators on behalf of the club and themselves.

The plaintiffs produced evidence showing that the Clark County School District stifled the students’ speech by refusing to allow the Students for Life club to distribute flyers because they mentioned a pregnancy resource clinic. Officials claimed that the flyers could not mention outside groups, yet they allowed other student groups to direct students to outside organizations.

Officials rejected requests from the Students for Life club to post images in the East Tech Times student newsletter, even though other student groups were allowed to do so.

Nathan Loyd, Thomas More Society staff counsel, elaborated on what happened to the club.

“Another very distressing aspect of the entire situation was the school’s failure to address the bullying directed against Avila, who was stalked and threatened because of his pro-life views and leadership,” Mr. Loyd said.

“Because the school—demonstrating unconcern for student well-being and antipathy toward the pro-life club’s message—failed to take effective steps to address the bullying, the settlement also includes financial compensation for the civil action, including legal costs.”

The school administrators used shifting explanations for why they didn’t want students from the club hanging posters in the school.

“The reasons just never made sense, and they would never use the same reason from one denial to another,” Mr. Loyd told The Epoch Times.

The school district objected to pictures of students holding signs saying “I am the pro-life generation.”

“School staff and faculty were hanging pro-choice posters that said, ‘no uterus, no opinion,’ right there in the school classroom,“ Mr. Loyd said. ”So, they weren’t afraid of controversial viewpoints or controversial issues. They were only afraid of disfavored viewpoints.

“My favorite denial was when the students weren’t allowed to put up a pro-life banner. And they were told they weren’t allowed to do it because it was too professionally made. Just an absolutely absurd characterization.”

This is the second time that the Clark County School District has been sued by the Thomas More Society for discriminating against a student pro-life group. In the 2015 case of Angelique Clark v. Clark County School District, the Thomas More Society secured a victory in a similar lawsuit.

The Epoch Times sought comment from the Clark County School District but had not received a reply by press time.