School threatened with suit

Cancellation of 9/11 event brings allegation of civil rights violation

by Nick Wognum
An organization with conservative political leanings is threatening legal action against the Ely School District, alleging a civil rights violation and accusing the district of engaging in “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
Earlier this week, an attorney for the Young America’s Foundation served notice in a letter to superintendent Erik Erie.
Steven Mairella, deputy general counsel for the organization wrote that the school district’s cancellation of a 9-11 memorial event linked with his group “violated the civil rights of not only YAF but the students at your school.”
Mairella said the organization would take legal action unless the district “makes a public apology to YAF and the students who intended to participate in the 9-11 Never Forget Project” in both printed and social media, and “create clear guidelines that are consistent with the Constitution to prevent future abuses by school officials.”
While the event planned for the school campus was cancelled on Sept. 8, the school distanced itself from the YAF nearly a week earlier, pulling a promotional advertisement that identified the group by name.
YAF is led by former Wisconson Gov. Scott Walker and bills itself as “the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement,” while “committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”
High school student council president Micah Larson approached school officials about two weeks ago about hosting a 9-11 memorial and plans were set in motion for an event to be held at the school’s baseball stadium.
The school first agreed then required the affiliation with YAF be removed.
That demand was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment, according to Mairella.
Mairella cited newspaper comments by Erie in which the superintendent said YAF “is a very political organization” and that the school decided to end the affiliation because “of political ramifications.”
Mairella wrote “Viewpoint discrimination is an egregious form of content discriminations. The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the option or perspective of the speaker is the rational for the restriction.”
“School officials are not free to simply suppress expressions they do not agree with to avoid discomfort or controversy resulting from that expression, particularly when those views are protected political speech like what YAF and the students were planning.”
YAF has demanded that the school district preserve all documents, text messages and other messages related to the cancellation, and has filed a Freedom of Information Act request “which is separate and distinct” from its threat of legal action.
Erie addressed the cancellation during public remarks (see related story) at Monday’s board meeting, acknowledging the backlash and controversy over the district’s decision to cancel the event.
Erie conceded the district’s reaction “led to animosity we need to assume some responsibility for.”