Ninth Circuit Rejects Student Claims Their School District Forced Them to Protest Guns

No taxpayer funds were used — and no students were ordered to participate — in anti-gun protests in Portland, Oregon, after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. 

Students rally in front of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Students walked out of school to protest gun violence in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged in response to the 2018 massacre of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CN) — Siding with Portland, Oregon, Public Schools on Monday, a Ninth Circuit panel largely affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a complaint brought by parents and students who objected to the school district’s participation in an anti-gun protest following the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

The three-judge panel did, however, order the lower court to dismiss the case with prejudice rather than giving the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint. The judges found the parents did not have the standing to argue their tax dollars were misappropriated to force students to learn something about which the parents disagreed because the school did not allocate additional dollars to the protest. 

“Plaintiffs’ ‘grievance is not a direct dollars-and-cents injury,’ but rather an ideological dispute about the content of the school day,” the panel wrote in a terse 7-page opinion issued Monday. 

A group of parents and students sued the school district in March 2019, complaining about protests held across various schools across Portland Public Schools in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead and 17 others injured. 

The group claimed the school district’s support of the anti-gun protests was not only a misappropriation of their tax dollars but also forced students to tout messages with which they disagreed in violation of their First Amendment rights. 

U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut dismissed the claims, prompting the Ninth Circuit appeal.

In their ruling, U.S. Circuit Judges William Fletcher and Michell Friedland, and U.S. District Judge Frederic Block — sitting by designation from the Eastern District of New York — agreed that while the plaintiffs had standing to bring a First Amendment lawsuit, what occurred did not amount to compelled speech. 

“To the extent that the school district encouraged students to voluntarily participate in the protests, it engaged in teaching ‘by persuasion and example,’ which does not support a compelled speech claim,” the panel wrote.

Parents acknowledged the protests were voluntary, but claimed students who opted out were ostracized and bullied by their classmates and the school district did little to stop it. The panel disagreed. 

“The alleged peer pressure to participate in the protests did not constitute government compulsion,” the panel wrote. 

The panel said peer pressure can be considered as coercion as it pertains to the establishment of the religion clause of the First Amendment, but not the freedom of speech clause. 

“Although the Supreme Court has considered peer pressure as a form of indirect coercion in its analysis of an establishment clause, that reasoning does not apply to claims arising under the speech clause,” the panel wrote. 

President Bill Clinton appointed Fletcher and Block, while Friedland is a Barack Obama appointee.

%d bloggers like this: