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LAS VEGAS (Thomas More Society) — Thomas More Society attorneys have secured the right of Las Vegas students to speak openly on behalf of the preborn in public schools. On February 20, the Clark County School District concluded a settlement agreement with a high school Students for Life Club and two former students to end prohibition of pro-life speech and protect against future bans throughout the district’s more than 300 schools.

“This public, taxpayer-funded school district and high school were actively violating the Equal Access Act, the Nevada Constitution, and the United States Constitution, apparently due to ongoing bias against the club’s pro-life beliefs and actions,” stated Joan Mannix, Thomas More Society executive vice president and managing counsel.

“We are pleased that the negotiations for this settlement have resulted in revisions to school’s handbook and a memorandum to district administrators reminding them that students are not exempt from the First Amendment,” Mannix shared. “It’s regrettable that administrators of the fifth largest school district in the country needed this reminder. In fact, their own regulations prohibit discriminating against student clubs on the basis of religious, political, philosophical, or other speech content.”

In need of help, Felipe Avila, founder and leader of the Students for Life Club, reached out to Students for Life of America — a national organization that provides support to student pro-life clubs. Students for Life of America then called in the Thomas More Society legal team.

“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,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “Free speech includes pro-life speech, whether you like it or not. Pro-life students will always have a voice for the voiceless, and Students for Life of America will ensure their freedom to do so is respected.”

Avila — now a nursing student at Catholic University of America — and co-plaintiff Janelle Rivera had each served consecutively as officers for the Students for Life Club at the district’s East Career and Technical Academy. After nearly three years of the school administrators discriminating against their pro-life speech, Avila and Rivera decided to file a lawsuit against the school, the district, and administrators on behalf of the club and themselves.

“I am forever grateful to Students for Life and Thomas More Society for their unwavering support,” shared Avila, who continues with his personal commitment to pro-life advocacy. “They have been by my side since day one. I could not have asked for greater allies.”

Thomas More Society attorneys presented evidence of the school’s unconstitutional and exclusionary actions against the pro-life student group. School administrators stifled the group’s protected speech by:

  • Refusing to allow the Students for Life Club to distribute flyers because they mentioned a pregnancy resource clinic, claiming that flyers could not mention outside groups, even though other favored student groups often directed students to outside groups;
  • Rejecting of Students for Life Club requests to post images in the East Tech Times student newsletter, despite other student groups including images;
  • And rejecting a Students for Life Club meeting announcement, including pictures of students declaring “I am the Pro-Life Generation,” because they were “too controversial” — despite allowing faculty to hang pro-abortion posters in their classrooms.

“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,” added Nathan Loyd, Thomas More Society staff counsel. “Because the school — demonstrating unconcern for student wellbeing 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.”

Mannix also noted that this was not the first time Clark County schools have engaged in such conduct, referring to the 2015 federal lawsuit, Angelique Clark v. Clark County School District, et al., in which the Thomas More Society achieved legal victory against the same school district as a result of similar discrimination against a student pro-life group at its West Career and Technical Academy.

Hawkins applauded the victory for Avila, Rivera, and the East Career and Technical Academy Students for Life Club.

“We encourage pro-life students across America to stand firm in their beliefs and do what they know to be right,” Hawkins added. “This situation in Las Vegas has been yet another example of illegal discrimination against dedicated young people for speaking up for the truth about life. At Students for Life of America, we continue to stand alongside them, providing resources, training, and guidance to help share the message that preborn life is precious, and abortion is a horrific wrong.”

Read the original lawsuit filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of the East Career and Technical Academy Students for Life Club, Felipe Avila, and Janelle Rivera, on September 29, 2022, in United States District Court – District of Nevada, here.