- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

A Christian pro-life organization in South Dakota is suing the local school district, claiming it repeatedly barred the group from using one of its facilities to hold events or discussions on abortion.

Allen Carlson, president of Citizens for Life in Rapid City, said in the complaint that the Rapid City Area School District repeatedly has barred his organization from holding events or discussions at the Dakota Middle School auditorium.

Mr. Carlson said the school, without giving a reason, refused his first request to use the auditorium in August 2006. A year later, the school again denied the group’s request to use the auditorium for an event, and declined to state the reason in writing.

Mr. Carlson said the school district told him the group’s message was “too controversial” and “we just don’t like to encourage discussions of those types of issues in our facilities.”

The organization now is trying to use the auditorium in May for an event.

The school district policy states that school facilities prohibit meetings for political, sectarian and religious purposes. But, the attorneys for the group argue the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Stephen Wesolick, one of the attorneys with Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the Citizens for Life, said school officials are not permitted to engage in viewpoint discrimination or to stonewall the group.

“The school’s action has been challenged on numerous grounds … the policy itself discriminates against the religious viewpoint,” Mr. Wesolick said.

On several occasions, ADF attorneys requested copies of public records, including records showing which community groups the school district has allowed to use its facilities, according to the ADF. School officials have denied they keep such records and have yet to fully respond to the request, according to the ADF.

Peter Wharton, superintendent of schools, said the school district would not comment on the specifics on the issue.

Citizens for Life was established six years ago and has 245 members.

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