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ACLU Files Lawsuit After DC Students Claim High School Shut Down Pro-Palestine Events

— April 27, 2024

The ACLU claims that Jackson-Reed High School officials forced Arab Student Union members to jump through hoops when organizing events–only for many of their planned meetings to be canceled by administrators.

Students in Washington, DC, have filed a lawsuit accusing their principal and school district of repeatedly attempting to censor pro-Palestine voices at Jackson-Reed High School.

According to National Public Radio, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week on behalf of the school’s Arab Student Union. Attorneys for the students say that local education officials violated students’ First Amendment rights simply “because the school does not want their viewpoint—which concerns the ongoing war in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian people—to be heard.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the students, specifically alleges that its clients were prohibited from hosting a “Palestinian Culture Night,” during which student-leaders had planned to distribute informational pamphlets, hand out stickers, and offer face-paint “tattoos.”

Administrators had, in the past, also prevented the Arab Student Union from screening a short documentary entitled The Occupation of the American Mind, which criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“The complaint asks the court to direct the school to stop violating the students’ rights and to allow them to engage in these activities before June 7, the last day of the school year for seniors,” said the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the students in their claim.

Gavel on copy of lawsuit; image by Wirestock, via
Gavel on copy of lawsuit; image by Wirestock, via

Although Jackson-Reed High School later said that it blocked Occupation screening because the Arab Student Union had never actually sought permission to show the documentary—a documentary that has been accused of propagating antisemitic tropes of Jewish conspiracy and control over the media—the American Civil Liberties Union notes that other student organizations have been allowed to show lunch-hour films without the administration’s say-so.

“What they’re trying to do is education, which is what school is all about,” said ACLU-D.C. Senior Counsel Art Spitzer. “[…] There’s a big difference between being controversial and disruptive, and I think that’s the distinction the school didn’t see.”

The case, adds N.P.R., appears similar to that of Tinker v. Des Moines—a Vietnam War-era lawsuit that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where the justices found that “high school students had a right to peacefully express their views about the war.”

Tinker v. Des Moines, Spitzer said, “seems to me very analogous to the same rights that we’re trying to uphold now.”

“[The Arab Student Union’s] activity was being prohibited because the school, for some reason, didn’t like the content of their speech,” he said. “That’s not a reason that the government is allowed to censor speech.”

Spitzer has said that, while the Arab Student Union’s complaint might invite comparisons with the more disruptive pro-Palestine protests being staged on college campuses across the country, Jackson-Reed High School students are not trying to do anything “out of the ordinary.”

“This is not a case that involves campus disruptions, takeovers of buildings, or […] encampments on school property,” he said. “This a really very ordinary sort of educational activity—showing a documentary film, handing out leaflets—something that groups do all the time at Jackson-Reed.”


A student club is suing its school, saying its pro-Palestinian views were censored

ACLU sues DC high school on behalf of students over pro-Palestinian programming

D.C. students sue over alleged censorship of pro-Palestinian activity

Pro-Palestinian US high school students accuse school of censoring speech

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