Attorney: LGBTQ flag lawsuit settlement ‘victory’ for free speech
Protesters disappointed with school district
MARSHALL — An attorney representing citizens who sued the Marshall Public Schools over a LGBTQ pride flag hanging in the middle school cafeteria declared in a press release sent earlier this week that the settlement with the district was “an absolute victory” for taxpayers and free speech rights.
Meanwhile, a group of area residents protesting in Marshall on Thursday said the decision was a disappointment.
“Public education is funded by public tax dollars,” attorney Erick Kaardal said in the press release. “And we are pleased that the Marshall School District has recognized that First Amendment rights do not end at the entrance to the public school building.”
But the area residents who gathered at Memorial Park said they disagreed with the decision to take down the display of flags, including a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, as well as the U.S. and other nations’ flags, from the cafeteria.
“There is a better way to do this, an inclusive way,” said Sue Morton. She said taking down the flags removed visible symbols not only of LGBTQ+ students, but of immigrant, Native American, and special needs students.
The lawsuit, filed in April, alleged that the school district and MMS Principal Mary Kay Thomas violated a student’s First Amendment rights by taking away a petition to take down the rainbow flag. The lawsuit also claimed the school district’s policies on flag displays weren’t “viewpoint neutral.”
On Monday, Marshall School Board members unanimously approved a settlement agreement dismissing the lawsuit. As part of the conditions of the settlement, MPS needed to take down the flag display by Aug. 1, and add new language to school board policies saying students may circulate petitions on school property if the petition does not disrupt school activities like class, or violate other school policies.
The conditions also add language to board policies saying that students won’t be disciplined for signing another student’s petition, or for distributing or signing petitions off of school property.
Both the settlement documents and a statement from MPS said the settlement was not an admission of any wrongdoing by the school district. However, in a news release Kaardal spoke more critically of MPS and Thomas.
“This is an absolute victory for the taxpayers of Marshall, Minnesota,” Kaardal said. “The school chose to display controversial symbols and then the middle school administrator unconstitutionally put a chokehold on any opposition, despite that dissent being expressed in peaceable, appropriate, and legal fashion. Taxpayers must be assured that their money does not go to institutions practicing fascist-style tactics against those who exercise their freedom to object.”
Marshall Pride and PFLAG Marshall-Buffalo Ridge encouraged people to bring rainbow flags and flags representing other LGBTQ+ identities to Memorial Park on Thursday in response to the settlement. Morton said the two groups had made a decision to be visible in supporting Marshall area youth.
Before a thunderstorm moved in that afternoon, around 30 people were gathered at the corner of Main Street and College Drive in Marshall. Several said they were there to be allies for LGBTQ+ kids and youth.
It was important for young people to know they have a voice and representation in their community, said Augusta Volstad.
“Regardless of the decision, we want kids to know they are loved and recognized,” she said.