Media Contact


April 24, 2024

Complaint alleges violations of students’ First Amendment rights

Washington, D.C. - A lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia on behalf of the Arab Student Union at Jackson-Reed High School challenged the school administration for unlawfully censoring the student club’s pro-Palestinian speech.

For the past four months, the administration of Jackson-Reed High School has barred the Arab Student Union, a recognized student club at the District of Columbia Public School, from engaging in activities similar to those that other student groups organize at the school. The administration stopped the club from showing a documentary film critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, canceled the club’s Palestinian Culture Night, barred the students from distributing literature that depicted Palestinian cultural symbols, and prohibited the club from handing out stickers with the outline of Palestine or ones that read “Free Palestine.”

The lawsuit alleges that the administration violated the students’ First Amendment rights and their rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the D.C. Student Bill of Rights. The complaint argues that the administration suppressed the student group’s speech “because the school does not want their viewpoint—which concerns the ongoing war in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian people—to be heard.” The lawsuit also argues that Jackson-Reed's administration treated the Arab Student Union unequally with other student groups.

“The fact that the plight of the Palestinian people is considered controversial means it needs more discussion, not less,” said a member of the Arab Student Union whose name has been withheld from court papers to shield them from retaliation by individuals outside the school community. “Our school is teaching us the wrong lesson: that we should shy away from discussing critical issues when other people may disagree with us.”

“I applaud the students’ courage in taking a stand for their First Amendment rights,” said a Jackson-Reed faculty member, whose name is being withheld for similar reasons. “The Arab Student Union should not be treated as a second-class club in our school community.”

The complaint asks the court to direct the school to stop violating the students’ rights and to allow them to engage in these activities before June 7, the last day of the school year for seniors.

“The First Amendment would mean nothing in schools if administrators could shut down speech simply because it offends people in the community,” said Arthur Spitzer, ACLU-D.C. Senior Counsel and attorney for the Arab Student Union. “The logic of the First Amendment is that having tough conversations is part of learning to become citizens in our democracy.”

The complaint in today’s case, Arab Student Union of Jackson–Reed High School v. District of Columbia et. al, may be found here.

The version of the documentary film The Occupation of the American Mind that the student club wanted to show may be viewed here.

The literature that the administration censored may be found here.