Leaders of the right-wing political movement to restrict American women’s ability to make their own moral and religious choices about reproduction and family planning have launched a new campaign aimed at American high school students. Leaders of the April 28 Rock for Life “National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day” are encouraging students to “exercise their First Amendment right of free speech by wearing a pro-life T-shirt to school.”
Organizers apparently hope that by encouraging students to wear inflammatory T-shirts such as “Abortion is Homicide,” they will provoke school administrators into punishing students and creating an opportunity to portray themselves as champions of the First Amendment.
In fact, anti-choice organizers do not support students’ rights to learn and talk about reproductive health in their schools. The same Religious Right groups promoting the T-shirt day have also lobbied hard to have the federal government impose Abstinence Only Until Marriage Sex Education on American public schools and drastically restrict the kind of potentially lifesaving information that can be discussed with students.
“We believe that respect and tolerance for different moral and religious perspectives is important, and that tolerance should be taught and practiced in public schools,” said People For the American Way Foundation president, Ralph G. Neas. “We support the right of anti-choice students to express their point of view, in a manner that is respectful of the views of others, without fear of retribution.”
PFAWF and Choice USA encourage pro-choice students to do the same, and to advocate for their own right to sexuality education that is not censored or limited to one religious and moral viewpoint.
PFAWF and Choice USA have made stickers available on our websites, www.pfaw.org and www.choiceusa.org, where students, teachers and community groups can download and print the materials and exercise their rights to free expression as well.
Reproductive choice is about more than abortion. Reproductive choice is about individuals having the legal right to make their own choices on abstinence and contraception. It is about women’s ability to make difficult moral and religious decisions that affect their lives, their health, and their families. It is about receiving full and accurate information in schools about human sexuality and reproduction. Finally, it is about using government power to protect individual liberty, not to impose one religious point of view on others.
We encourage parents and students to use this day to open a dialogue around reproductive choice, comprehensive sexuality education, religious liberty, and free expression.
Free speech in a regulated environment like public schools is not absolute, and some of the T-shirts Rock for Life organizers are encouraging students to wear may be considered by some school administrators to exceed the bounds of constitutionally protected speech. However, the best response for students, parents and administrators is not to try to silence controversial speech, but to encourage more speech and create an environment for respectful discussion.