Eighth Circuit orders school to give gay rights group equal access

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website; JURIST news archive] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a Minnesota school district must give a student group advocating gay rights [JURIST news archive] the same access to school facilities as other groups. Two students belonging to Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE) sued the Osseo Area School District [official website] under the federal Equal Access Act (EAA) [text], which prohibits secondary public schools from discriminating against student groups on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical or other content of their speech. The plaintiffs alleged that administrators at Maple Grove High School (MGHS) [school website] had violated the EAA by designating SAGE as "noncurricular" and prohibiting it from raising money, taking field trips and using school-sponsored avenues of communication - privileges given to curriculum-related groups. The school district appealed a district court order granting a permanent injunction under which SAGE was to have "the same access for meetings, avenues of communication, and other miscellaneous rights" as curricular groups. Affirming the district court, Circuit Judge Lavenski R. Smith [official profile] wrote for a three-judge panel:

Here, MGHS does not prohibit SAGE from meeting at the school or utilizing some avenues of communication, but it limits SAGE's access to communication avenues and meeting times and places. Curricular groups receive more extensive use of school communication avenues. Thus, the issue is not whether MGHS provides SAGE access to some avenues of communication but whether it provides equal access to available avenues of communication as provided to other noncurriculum related groups. We hold that it does not.
The court found that the district had designated some noncurricular groups, such as the school's Spirit Club, as curricular, giving them privileges denied to SAGE. Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota [advocacy website] filed the lawsuit [ACLU materials] in September 2005 and won a preliminary injunction the following year. The Eighth Circuit also upheld [opinion, PDF] the preliminary injunction. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more.

In April, the Sixth Circuit [official website] dismissed [PDF text] a lawsuit [ACLU press release] brought by a Kentucky high school student over a policy prohibiting students from expressing their opposition to homosexuality and requiring them to undergo anti-harassment training. The court held [JURIST report] 2-1 that Morrison failed to show he had been harmed by the policy prior to its repeal, or that winning the lawsuit would remedy the issue. The school district changed the policy to exempt speech that would ordinarily be protected under the First Amendment. The ruling followed an earlier decision [PDF text] by the same Sixth Circuit panel allowing the case to proceed.


 

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