Conservative students sue Edina High School in free speech row

They claim the school breached their free speech rights by stopping its support of the Young Conservatives Club.

The Essentials

1. Attorneys representing five students, Nick Spades, Elizabeth Ebner, Jazmine Edmond, Tatum Buyse and Ana Doval, are suing Edina High School and district, saying it violated their 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

2. They are members of the Young Conservatives Club who made disparaging comments on Twitter and in private chat messages about other students, including Somali-Americans, who sat during the playing of Taps and the national anthem during a Veterans Day assembly.

3. The school revoked the club's status as school-sponsored as a result, causing membership numbers to fall. The students say their right to free speech was restricted.

The Big Picture

The lawsuit filed on Thursday centers around the 1st Amendment protections for the right to protest and the right to free speech.

Edina High School policy states that students must show proper etiquette toward and respect for the flag and patriotic exercises, but Principal Andrew Beaton has since clarified that this doesn't mean they are required to stand.

Beaton told the school newspaper last month that they recognize students' right to protest during the Taps, national anthem, and the pledge, as well as the rights of other students to criticize them for doing so.

Where the Young Conservatives Club fell foul, he argues, was the manner in which they criticized the protesters, saying "when the statements become disrespectful, that's when we have to step in."

The young conservatives posted a video of the flag protest on the social networking app GroupMe, prompting a flurry of critical comments from "non-member" students, four of whom were suspended, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the young conservatives say it's unconstitutional for the school to ban or limit student groups that disagree with the school's "missions, values and beliefs."

The lawsuit doesn't describe the abusive comments made about the protesting students, but it does say it led to a group calling itself EHS Anti-Fascist posted a video calling the young conservatives out for their behavior, causing them to fear for their safety.

The students claim they are often subjected to bullying in school for their political views, saying they were called racists in public and on social media in 2016 when they came to school wearing Trump t-shirts.

"ESD policies say 'all are welcome here,' but what ESD really means is all are welcome except conservatives," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit comes amid wider turmoil in the school following an article by the conservative Minnesota-based think-tank Center of the American Experiment claimed Edina High School was home to "left-wing political indoctrination," as the Star Tribune reports.

Edina Public Schools told the newspaper that it can't comment on litigated topics, but that the district respects student free-speech rights

The Center of the American Experiment itself shared a video of the flag protest on YouTube, with some of the comments left beneath it extremely offensive.

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