Update 5/12/16: After meeting with Amnesty International Field Organizer Ernest Coverson, Principal Dwight Carter indicated that the student group would be approved to form in Fall 2016. When a junior at New Albany High School near Columbus, Ohio took it upon herself to organize an Amnesty International affiliate group at her school to discuss human rights, the Principal decided that she needed “protection” from such political matters.
According to reporting by The Columbus Dispatch, when Ellie Henze distributed a poster to promote the club’s initial meeting that included an image of a protestor holding a “Free Palestine” sign, several people contacted the Jewish Federation of Columbus to object to what they considered an “anti-Israel” message.
New Albany High School Principal Dwight Carter emailed an apology to the entire school community on April 12 and subsequently informed Henze via email that she could form a student group concerned with human rights on the condition that it is not associated with Amnesty International.
My responsibility in this is to protect our students from getting caught up in political lightning rod topics, such as what we’ve been discussing the last couple of weeks,” Carter’s email said. “Using (Amnesty International’s) name will create nothing but animosity, fear and potentially bring negative attention to students who are simply trying to democratically decide on human rights issues to discuss.”
The affair has attracted the attention of legal commentator Eugene Volokh of The Washington Post, who observes that “if the school lets other noncurriculum-related clubs to meet at school . . . this violates both the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.” The New Albany High School website does reveal that numerous student organizations are permitted to operate at the school, including Bible Club, Leadership Club, Publications Club, Heavy Metal Music Club, and Magic: The Gathering Club.
“Amnesty International isn’t anti-Semitic, it’s not pro-Palestine or anti-Judaism—it supports human rights all over the world,” Henze told The Columbus Dispatch. “Everything the organization stands for really aligns with the community’s values. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve used a different picture, because this situation has been blown way out of proportion.”