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Access Denied: Pro-Life Group Can’t Use School Facility Like Other Groups

Center for Religious Expression sent a letter today to the General Counsel for Memphis City Schools (MCS) on behalf of Shelby County Chapter of Tennessee Right to Life (SCTRL), whom school officials denied access to a school auditorium set aside for public use. Officials denied SCTRL’s request due to a policy that precludes use for staging or disbanding a protest. Though SCTRL explained that they only wanted to conduct a rally, MCS concluded that the content of the group’s expression reflected a “protest.”

“Individuals holding pro-life views should not be excluded from reserving and using public school facilities because of their beliefs,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Despite the group denying any type of protest, MCS took advantage of vague language in the policy to deny their request. The decision was arbitrary and capricious.”

On October 30, 2012, Kent Pruett, for SCTRL, submitted a rental request form to use the auditorium at White State High School on January 20, 2013, for a pro-life rally to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. SCTRL met all requirements for use and Pruett emphasized that the meeting would not entail or relate to a protest. Notwithstanding, a couple of days later, MCS, by direction of General Counsel, denied their request, specifying the protest policy as the basis.

In the letter, Kellum stressed the unconstitutional nature of both the policy and the decision. Kellum added: “It really wouldn’t matter if their speech did amount to a protest. MCS is not at liberty to pick viewpoints they like and exclude those they don’t.”

CRE seeks a response by the end of the week. “SCTRL needs relief soon so they can make preparations for the rally,” said Kellum.

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