A conservative legal group announced victory Thursday in their settlement with a Pennsylvania school district, after an official chewed out two religious, anti-abortion teens on April 21. The Alliance Defending Freedom said 40-year-old Zach Ruff, a Vice Principal of Academics and Student Life at Downingtown STEM Academy, harassed 16-year-old Conner Haines and 19-year-old Lauren Haines for protesting on a public sidewalk outside school. He cursed them out, telling them to “go to hell,” and then some. The ADL claimed in a May 3 letter that he assaulted them by trying to take a sign.
On Thursday, the group published a July 7 letter from the district, which acknowledged that he violated the protesters’ rights.
“You had every right under our constitution’s First Amendment to speak and display signs like you did, and that right was violated by Dr. Ruff,” wrote Superintendent of Schools Emilie M. Lonardi. “Rest assured that Dr. Ruff’s actions do not represent the policy of the School District.” They promised to train employees not to violate people’s Free Speech rights on public sidewalks outside schools.
No lawsuit was ever filed. Neither Conner nor Lauren attended the school.
This incident was caught on video. If you don’t have time to watch the entire 18 minutes, jump to about 14:20 when Ruff starts singing the tune to the Mario Brothers theme song.
Ruff was placed on paid administrative leave, but has since resigned from the school. In May, supporters showed up to a school board meeting on his behalf, though some locals disagreed, saying he acted inappropriately.
LawNewz.com reached out to Catherine Ross, a law professor at George Washington University and author of the book Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights.
“The settlement is a bit pallid because the cover letter only pledges the district not to ‘violate anyone’s Free Speech rights on public sidewalks outside our schools,'” she said, explaining that students at the school would also have “a right to express their views on abortion on the school campus as well, so long as they did not materially disrupt educational activities.”
[Screengrab via Conner Haines]