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New York high school won’t accept pro-freedom student club

Harrison High School recognizes 33 different clubs but repeatedly denied conservative group access to resources, ability to recruit members

Wednesday, Jun 3, 2020
HARRISON, N.Y. – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Tuesday to officials with Harrison Central School District after they refused to officially recognize a conservative student club. The letter explains that the refusal to recognize Harrison Young Americans for Freedom, which would be an independent student group affiliated with the national Young America’s Foundation organization, is unconstitutional and violates the federal Equal Access Act.

Harrison High School currently recognizes 33 different clubs on campus, including the non-curricular social and civic clubs such as Friends of Rachel, the Gay Straight Alliance, Relay for Life, Youth to Youth, and Youth Volunteers of Harrison.

“Students have the constitutionally protected freedom to organize around their shared beliefs. Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for arbitrary reasons, especially when they have approved a whole host of other clubs formed around civic, political, and social interests,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations. Harrison High School must recognize Harrison Young Americans for Freedom, and Harrison Central School District needs to update its policies so that this doesn’t happen again.”

ADF attorneys represent student Luke Wong, who applied in April 2019 for recognition of Harrison Young Americans for Freedom. After Wong applied to the assistant principal, the school refused to recognize the club and repeated its refusal when YAF submitted the request again in the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2020. Each time the school denied the request, officials offered varying rationales and even recommended Wong join Model Congress, even though he explained how YAF is unique from any other clubs on campus.

In the letter, ADF attorneys request that, by June 30, the Harrison CSD Board adopt policies that require all of its schools to consider, in a timely manner, all requests to start new student clubs and ensure that, in compliance with the Equal Access Act, they will not discriminate against a club or prospective club because of the club’s religious, political, philosophical, or other content of its speech.

“Public schools should be fostering real diversity of thought, not discriminating against groups based on their political beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Today’s students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders. That’s why it’s so important that public schools exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”

“The Harrison YAF chapter deserves the same equal access to school resources as every other student organization on campus,” said YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown. “It is completely inappropriate for school officials to treat students differently because of their beliefs, and we are hopeful the school board will update their policies such that we don’t need to resort to a lawsuit.”
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-uhr)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
 
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ABOUT Caleb Dalton

Caleb Dalton serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role at the Center for Academic Freedom. Since joining ADF in 2013, Dalton has served on multiple teams representing private individuals and government entities to affirm the fundamental freedoms of speech and religious liberty. In 2017, he joined the Center for Academic Freedom where he has represented clients seeking to speak freely on campus without fear of unconstitutional government censorship. Dalton earned a J.D. at the Regent University School of Law, graduating cum laude. He is a member of the bar in Arizona, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; he is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

ABOUT Tyson Langhofer

Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.