A Sacramento, California, high school junior’s plan for a national student walkout on April 11 is inspired by his pro-life values and his strong conviction that all students have First Amendment rights to stand for their principles.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Brandon Gillespie (pictured)– a student at Rocklin High School – said he met with his principal last Friday to discuss his plan for a pro-life student walkout to protest abortion.
“I asked him for the exact same accommodations that were given to the students who held the previous walkout on March 14, and he was not able to give me a direct answer on whether or not I was able to have this pro-life walkout,” Gillespie said. “He told me he has to go talk to certain administrators and people in the school district before he can give me a direct answer. So, he told me he will be getting back to me on April 2.”
Gillespie notes, however, that while currently he cannot be certain his school will allow the pro-life walkout, he does know the walkout is already slated to occur in schools throughout the country as a result of his social media campaign.
“Initially I just started through social media, using the hashtag #Life,” he explained. “And the word has just spread – just through social media pretty much, through different media outlets and stuff, and just me going and doing interviews with people. People have been reaching out to me and saying, ‘I love your cause,’ and ‘I love what you’re doing,’ and ‘I’m going to do this at my school.’”
Gillespie said his hope is to engage as many people as possible in the pro-life movement.
Students participating in the pro-life walkout on April 11 will walk out of their schools at 10:00 a.m. in all time zones for 17 minutes – as did students who participated in the gun control walkout on March 14.
Asked if he is primarily organizing the walkout because he is pro-life or because he is challenging a potential double standard in public schools that allowed a student walkout during instructional time over promotion of a progressive issue such as gun control, Gillespie responded, “It’s a little bit of both.”
“So, yes, I’m very pro-life – I’m against abortion,” he continued. “So, that’s the biggest thing. But, also, I really want to test and see if there is a double standard at schools because the previous walkout on March 14 was school-sanctioned and it was for gun control. So, I wanted to test the schools and see if they would allow a more conservative topic. That’s why I’m doing this; but, yes, I am also very pro-life.”
Gillespie said his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, was the main inspiration for his idea to launch the pro-life walkout.
“She’s the one who motivated me to do this because she questioned the school about whether it would give the same courtesy to a group of students that wanted to protest something else, for example, abortion,” he explained. “So, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m testing to see if the school district will give the same courtesy. She’s really who inspired me to do this.”
Benzel was placed on paid leave last week for questioning whether students against abortion would be permitted to walk out of class in the same way thousands of students walked out of class during instruction time on March 14 to promote gun control.
Complaints were made against Benzel by some parents and students who said her questions to her students were “anti-abortion,” resulting in the teacher being placed on leave.
“[If schools] are going to allow one group of students to get up during class and walk out to protest one issue, would they still give the same courtesy to another group of students who wanted to get up and walk out to protest?” she asked, according to Fox News Insider. “And I used the example of abortion.”
Gillespie, who plans to enter the military after he completes high school, said he totally understands the criticism that no students should be permitted to engage in walkouts for political causes during instructional time.
“But another big part of this is for students’ rights,” he told Breitbart News. “I don’t think students understand that they still have their First Amendment rights – even when they are in school. Just because they’re in school, doesn’t mean their rights are taken away. I want students to know across the country they still have the right to stand up for what they believe in, even if it’s conflicting with what the school district believes.”
Connecticut-based constitutional and education attorney Deborah Stevenson told Breitbart News the constitutional principles of equal protection under the law may apply in the case of the pro-life walkout.
“If one group was allowed to have a school walkout to advocate for school safety through gun control, then other groups may have a right to have a walkout to advocate for pro-life causes, under the premise of equal protection principles,” she said. “This might be particularly true when both of the groups here are advocating for the protection of the lives of individuals.”
Stevenson notes, however, that the use of taxpayer funds, under existing law, in many states, “may preclude the kind of partisan political advocacy seen most recently by use of these walkouts.”
“However, if one side of an argument is allowed to effectuate that kind of demonstration, then it would appear to be fair to allow those who have an opposing point of view to do the same,” she added. “It would be wise, then, for all who seek to advocate using school district funds or services to determine their liability under the law before proceeding.”
Though Gillespie said he believes, in general, students should not be out protesting for political causes during instructional time, he cannot dismiss the fact that schools allowed the gun control walkout.
“Because schools sanctioned this first walkout, and that was taking place during class time, then they have to allow more,” he asserted. “So, until they come to a point at which they say, ‘Okay, this is enough. No more protests during school time.’”
Asked if conservative students have a tougher time in public schools, Gillespie said living in California is definitely a challenge for him as a more conservative student.
“I do believe it is harder for conservative students to speak their minds and say what they really think because most teachers are very left-leaning politically,” he explained.
Students for Life of America (SFLA) – the nation’s largest organization of pro-life youth – is serving as a resource for the Pro-Life Walkout.
SFLA media specialist Kristi Hamrick told Breitbart News students can obtain information about their legal rights at ProLifeWalkout.org, where students and schools can also sign up to participate in the walkout on April 11.
“We recognize that there’s pushback,” Hamrick said. “We do have attorneys working with us. What was good for one cause is good for the other. So, in particular, if students are concerned about the legal issues associated with participating in the walkout, we’re going to help them with that.”
The pro-life walkout is “student-initiated and student-driven,” Hamrick added.