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Federal judge: Michigan school erred in barring student's opinion

By The Associated Press
12.08.03

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen on Sept. 29, 2004, ordered Ann Arbor Public Schools to pay Elizabeth Hansen's $102,738 legal bill after she won a free-speech ruling against the district.

DETROIT — A federal judge has ruled that Ann Arbor Public Schools violated a former student's constitutional rights when she wasn't allowed to express her Catholic views in a panel discussion about gays and religion.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen said in a 70-page opinion issued Dec. 5 that school officials violated Elizabeth Hansen's right to right to free speech and equal protection, The Ann Arbor News, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported.

He also said officials violated the establishment clause when they allowed a panel of clergy to present only one religious viewpoint on homosexuality.

Rosen ordered the school district to pay damages, attorney fees and costs to the Thomas More Law Center, the Ann Arbor firm that represented Hansen. The center handles cases across the country related to religious freedom of Christians.

Robert Muise, the center's attorney who argued the case, said the costs and fees could reach up to $100,000.

Liz Margolis, Ann Arbor Public Schools spokeswoman, said district officials wouldn't immediately comment on Rosen's opinion because they hadn't read it.

Rosen was highly critical of school officials' actions during Diversity Week in March 2002.

In 2002, a panel on homosexuality and religion included: two Episcopalian ministers, a Presbyterian minister, a Presbyterian deacon, a rabbi and a pastor of the United Church of Christ. All expressed positive views of homosexuality.

Hansen wanted to be a part of the panel to express an opposing view, but she was denied. She filed suit in July 2002.

Hansen was allowed to give a speech at a separate assembly. She claimed in the lawsuit that her speech was censored to exclude a passage which said in part, that she could not "accept religious and sexual ideas or actions that are wrong."

The district's attorney argued that the speech was edited because the school wanted to promote "student tolerance and acceptance of minority points of view."


Previous
Graduate claims high school clamped down on anti-gay message
Michigan school system's attorney says former student had plenty of opportunities to give her opinion during Diversity Week. 07.31.02

Related

Debating homosexuality in schools: Censorship doesn’t work

By Charles C. Haynes Trying to stifle speech for or against homosexuality rides on false hope that harmony, tolerance will prevail if no one is allowed to say anything that might offend anyone. 08.24.03

Church-state clashes in 2003: hard-won lessons in fairness
By Charles C. Haynes 'Removers' want to erase religion from public life; 'imposers' want to push it on everyone. Both approaches are wrong. 12.28.03

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