Updated: Pro-life group allowed to open at Florida high school after dispute

Pro life Credit Jonah McKeown CNA Jonah McKeown/CNA.

Updated Nov. 18:

A student pro-life group will launch at Gulf Coast High School in Collier County, Florida, after a Christian legal group sent a letter to school administrators demanding they grant formal approval to the club.

Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom on Nov. 7 sent a demand letter to Gulf Coast High School, asking administrators to provide written notice of the club's approval within a week.

Earlier in the school year, student Gabrielle Gabbard attempted to form a Sharks 4 Life student group on campus, affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. The purpose of the group, according to a promotional flyer, was "to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events."

However, the letter from Alliance Defending Freedom charges that Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown told Gabbard that the group would not be approved by the school district because it was too "political" and "controversial."

The letter also says Crawford-Brown threatened one of the club's faculty advisors, suggesting that she could lose her job if she were affiliated with the club, leading both the formal and informal advisor to withdraw from their participation in the group.

Alliance Defending Freedom said these actions constitute "a blatant form of discrimination based on the club's viewpoint and the political content of its speech [that] is expressly disallowed" by both the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Access Act.

The school district, however, disputes these claims, and says the club had never been disallowed by administrators.

Chad Oliver, executive director of communications and community engagement for Collier County Public Schools told CNA Nov 14, "Ms. Crawford-Brown never refused to open the club nor did she ever represent she would not approve it….She also never stated or represented that she did not want either pro-choice or pro-life groups on campus."

Oliver maintained that the assistant principal had never threatened anyone with job loss, and had never spoken to the faculty advisor who withdrew her participation in the club about the matter.

Recognition of school clubs is determined by the school principal, Oliver said, adding, "The principal thought the club had a faculty sponsor and would open until learning otherwise in early September. The problem became finding a new faculty sponsor."

Over the past week, the principal has reached out to the club to help find a new faculty sponsor, Oliver said. A new sponsor has been found and the Sharks 4 Life club will open.

Michael Ross, attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, told Fox News that the school had only cooperated after receiving the demand letter threatening legal action.

"ADF's demand letter clearly recounts Gulf Coast High School's repeated refusal to recognize Sharks 4 Life for over three months," he said. "The only apparent attempt from GCHS to recognize Sharks 4 Life comes after a threat of legal action."

Gulf Coast High School recognizes more than 75 student clubs, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Collier Students for Change, which is affiliated with Florida's Democratic Party, according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, warned that the organization has seen repeated efforts to silence pro-life messages on campuses throughout the U.S.

"Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion," she said in a press release.

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"But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition," she said.

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