By Brigid Curtis Ayer
Freedom of Speech Dilemma Abated
CARMEL, IN–The Freedom of Speech dilemma at Carmel High School has been abated at least for now.
The Carmel Teens for Life group plans to move ahead with its pro-life message now that its sign removal controversy has ended says Dina Ferchmin-Rowe who serves as club mom and pro-life educator.
Carmel Teens for Life, a pro-life club at Carmel High School which has been in existence for over a decade, drew national media attention when their pre-approved sign promoting adoption over abortion was mysteriously removed in December following a complaint by another student who described the sign as “offensive.”
The Sign that Caused the Controvery
Students in the pro-life club spent over 25 hours creating a large, banner-like, poster with 3,000 hand-painted hearts representing the estimated 3,000 babies aborted surgically every day in the United States. The hearts accompanied the statement,”3,000 Lives Are Ended Each Day….” And the word “abortion” in the sign is converted to “adoption.” According to the club president, Mary Carmen, the sign they created adhered to Carmel High School guidelines, and was pre-approved by the administration before students hung it in the cafeteria, but the sign was later removed and not returned to the club.
Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit, legal organization headquartered in Florida that handles religious liberty cases, threatened legal action against the Carmel High School claiming the high school violated the Constitution when it chose to censor the free speech of Carmel Teens for Life students’ poster because another student complained.
Purpose of the Club to Draw Awareness to the Reality of Abortion
Carmen, a senior, and parishioner of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel said, “I learned a lot about myself and how passionate I really am about the pro-life movement. This poster experience was an opportunity to show people how committed we are to not backing down, but it also showed us what we are up against, she added. “We are spreading truth, God’s truth. By understanding this, we realize we will face persecution and opposition,” she said. “But so did Christ, and ultimately we are drawn closer to Him in the process. I also learned the importance of a community, and the importance of prayer,” said Carmen. “The amount of times I have heard people say they are praying for the club has truly been such a witness to me and the Lord’s goodness.”
According to Carmen, the sign controversy has impacted the club quite a bit. “For starters, we’ve gained a lot more support and awareness of who we are and what we stand for,” Carmen said. Over 1,700 people on Facebook saw the poster that was removed. “We’ve added members to our list and have received many donations from the community and club parents. We also learned how to stick together, and I consider every one of the members as family,” said Carmen. “We care for each other and know how to stand by one another.”
Carmen explained that Carmel Teens for Life club works to protect all life from conception to natural death. “We hold various presentations and activities, as well as annual club events like bake sales, movie night, Day of Silence, and March for Life,” said Carmen. “Our main focus is making sure people are educated and understand the value and dignity behind every life, especially the unborn.” She said most of their club meetings are apologetic trainings and dialogue practices, as well as organizing upcoming fundraisers or events. Last year, Carmel Teens for Life donated some of the money raised to the O’Conner House, a nonprofit who temporarily houses unwed mothers in crisis and their babies until they can reach a stable living.
“I feel it is essential to have a pro-life club especially at the high school level,” said Carmen. “As people grow older, they tend to feel stronger about their opinions and the harder and harder it becomes to convince someone otherwise. If our end goal is truly to end abortion, then we need to start talking about the issue to begin with.” Carmen believes high school is supposed to be a place where students can share opinions and ideas, take stands, and truly be passionate about something. Having a pro-life influence is key to changing hearts and saving lives.
Impact of the Publicity for the Members and the Club Success
Sophia Tragesser, the club treasure, a junior, and also a member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish, said she learned the importance of standing up for Christ in the world. And the attention given the poster controversy opened up so many opportunities to share compassionately with both supporters and those opposing the group’s cause. Tragesser said, “I have learned how important it is to highlight great tragedies in society, such as, abortion because it opens the window for healing those who have been wounded by it and also brings awareness to the need to stop these injustices.”
Tragesser said she feels Carmel Teens for Life club is important because it shines a light on “the hidden, ugly, and ignored social injustices, such as, abortion.” She said, “It calls attention to the places where we are obligated as humans to help, but where we fail as a nation and world. It also brings the culture of life to our school and city, which is so very needed amidst the culture of death, which seeks to destroy all that is good,” said Tragesser. “We are a voice for the voiceless, but for so many more. We speak for the wounded, the lonely, the forgotten. And we speak encouragement, hope, and love to all.”
Ferchmin-Rowe said in the absence of truth, the void is going to be filled with a lie. We have to speak out and the youth have shown the truth in love to their classmates. The teens I have worked with have such a genuine compassion and kindness toward those who are angry or are suffering. In the past two years Ferchmin-Rowe has served as club mom, she said it’s been “inspiring” to see the passion in their generation. Ferchmin-Rowe says she has been amazed by how courageous the teens are. “They have a day called a ‘Day of Silence’ where the teens will be silent the entire day of school, wearing a red piece of duck tape on their sleeve that has the word ‘LIFE’ written on it in black permanent marker. It’s a way for them to give a voice to the voiceless who die from abortion.
New Policy and Freedom of Speech?
Carmel Teens for Life are in the process of creating another sign for the school which they will be able to hang for the last time. However, in the future sign rules for all Carmel High School clubs have changed according to Carmen. The signs can only be 8 ½ by 11 inches, and only display the club’s name and time and dates of meetings. No images or other information can be communicated via club signs in the future.