A small town Minnesota school has become a center of controversy because of a LGBT pride flag hanging in its cafeteria. Following several weeks of parental and community concern, packed school board meetings, and student anxiety, Thomas More Society attorneys have requested an array of formal documents from school officials to investigate how policies may have been violated in this scenario.
Marshall Middle School in Marshall, Minnesota, serves 679 students in grades 5 to 8. The rainbow pride flag, which is used to represent people who have chosen a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender lifestyle, hangs in the school’s cafeteria alongside the United States flag and a variety of international flags.
A student-circulated petition opposing the LGBT flag and requests to display other flags offered by the school population were not welcomed by the administration.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal, who has been retained to represent a group of Marshall residents, commented on the situation. “At the very least, it’s divisive and insensitive. It makes it appear that the school supports one group’s beliefs at the expense of others.” Kaardal added that when students expressed their concern to teachers and administrators over the lifestyle that the flag promotes, they were bullied.
“Whether this was an inappropriate decision by a staff member or a deliberate violation of students’ rights, this is a serious matter,” Kaardal remarked. “It is incumbent upon school officials to write and enforce rules that prevent the public school from being turned into a forum for the display of a single ideology. As members of the academic community, these administrators should understand that you cannot trample on the right to free speech.”
Kaardal stated that the school’s denial of other flags, such as the historical American Gadsden (Don’t Tread on Me) flag and a banner depicting a heterosexual family, shows that officials are imposing ideological beliefs on students.
“Ironically, of course, the rainbow flag is most famous for being involved in protest, but now those advocating that symbol of protest will not tolerate the expression of opposing ideas,” Kaardal observed.
Whether the school’s controversial display of the LGBT pride flag will result in a federal lawsuit remains to be seen, and will depend on how the Marshall School Board responds to the request for its written policies.
“School buildings are funded by public tax dollars,” explained Kaardal. “A ‘viewpoint neutral’ policy toward flags and other displays will assure taxpayers that their money does not go to promote symbols of beliefs they may not agree with. If a federal lawsuit is needed to make this happen, we are equipped to pursue that action.”
Read the March 5, 2020, letter from Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal to the Marshall, Minnesota, School District requesting documentation of policies and communications pertinent to petitions, displays, anti-bullying, and related matters as required under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act here