Cooperstown, North Dakota — A pro-life poster has been returned to the walls of a North Dakota high school after it was removed following receipt of a complaint from a disgruntled parent.
Student Michayla Maertens was contacted by officials at Griggs County Central High School last month and was informed that her poster, which was displayed among others created by her classmates, would need to removed because of a call from a parent who was unhappy with the poster’s content.
The display was part of a class assignment where students were asked to advocate a current issue, and Maerten’s poster consisted of a collage of pro-life messages, such as “life, not abortion” and “every human life has dignity and value.”
After Maertens complied and removed her poster, Principal Travis Jordan also contacted Maertens’ mother and explained that the display had to be removed because it created controversy, noting that he had consulted others about the matter. Mrs. Maertens called Jordan the following day to discuss the situation further, but Jordan advised that school policies allowed him to request that the collage be removed.
In turn, Mrs. Maertens contacted Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona, in hopes of obtaining intervention. Attorneys at ADF then sent both the principal and the school district a letter to request that the poster be reinstated.
“[A] a mere complaint cannot justify silencing expression,” the letter stated. “GCCSD evidently has a policy of censoring private student speech any time someone complains about it. But such a standard is vague, overbroad, and content and viewpoint-based and thus will not stand up in court.”
The correspondence also requested an apology to the student, the restoration of the poster and assurance that Maertens would be able to display similar projects in the future.
Following receipt of the letter, Principal Jordan responded to ADF the following day after consulting other officials and legal counsel, reversing his decision.
“We would like to thank Alliance Defending Freedom for the clarity they provided in their letter,” he wrote. “In regards to the First Amendment and free speech, we feel that there needs to be more clarity for public schools.”
Maertens’ poster was then restored, which pleased ADF.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” stated ADF legal counsel Jon Scruggs. “We commend Griggs County Central High School for believing in this principle and promptly allowing the pro-life poster to be redisplayed.”
“We know we’ve done our job when we hear that we’ve been able to help schools and students alike by bringing clarity to the freedoms Americans have under the First Amendment,” he added. “We hope other schools and school districts will follow the example of Griggs County and respond quickly to respecting those freedoms as they did.”