Ely Memorial High School in Ely, Minnesota forbid student affiliation with Young America’s Foundation before altogether cancelling an approved 9/11 memorial event days before it was set to take place, trampling on the Constitution and the free speech rights of its students.
EMHS’s Student Council planned to participate in YAF’s 9/11: Never Forget Project, in which they would plant 2,977 flags, one for each person murdered by radical Islamic terrorists.
The 9/11: Never Forget Project has become the largest nationwide student activism project, with over 12 million flags planted to date by students across the country. The purpose of the memorial is to properly remember the innocents murdered by radical Islamists and to fulfill our promise to never forget.
In the weeks leading up to 9/11, the EMHS Student Council was approved by school officials to participate in YAF’s 9/11: Never Forget Project. They began preparation, alongside more than 200 other schools around the country.
Last week, a local paper, The Timberjay reported that EMHS administrators were “made aware of the school’s involvement” with YAF and “took steps to disassociate the student council event from involvement with the group.”
The TimberJay also reported that it was contacted by a community member who expressed “concerns with the school district’s involvement with YAF.”
In the days following, EMHS promptly demanded that students remove all branding and association with YAF.
On Wednesday, however, EMHS’s Student Council executive board president, Micah Larson, was notified by the school that the event was cancelled altogether—just days before the memorial. He says he was given no explanation.
The TimberJay reported that Ely Public Schools Superintendent Erik Erie claimed, “What we try to do is to stay apolitical.”
According to Erie, the student council advisor had “unwittingly approved the 9/11 event, not knowing or understanding what YAF represents.”
“If it was a politically-liberal action committee or organization, we wouldn’t endorse that either. Or anything in the middle,” he continued.
After The TimberJay reported the dissociation with YAF and its 9/11: Never Forget Project was in an effort to remain “apolitical,” Superintendent Erik Erie flip-flopped Thursday telling YAF the outdoor flag display was canceled due to COVID-19.
“My understanding is that the event was organized prior to our recent District decision (September 4) to require masks for all people in our buildings. To follow through with an event mixing our students with the community at a time when we are observing a mask required protocol and are experiencing a ‘High Rate of Community Transmission’ (see CDC Tracker screenshot) was not something we were comfortable with,” he wrote.
He did not elaborate as to how an outdoor flag display commemorating innocents murdered by radical Islamists on 9/11 would increase COVID-19 transmission.
Upon reading the superintendent’s explanation, a concerned citizen reached out to YAF, explaining that there is a home football game scheduled for 7:00pm Friday night—the same day students were set to start their flag display.
The community is welcome at the game and “Masking is optional and no social distancing requirements. This was verified by the athletic director,” they added.
Ely Memorial’s decision is based on a faulty premise and is constitutionally unsound. The Supreme Court has long held that public schools, like Ely Memorial, should be abstaining from regulating speech when the ideology or opinion of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction. It should be noted that YAF is not a “political” organization and has maintained its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status without issue since its inception. YAF annually honors the memory of 9/11 as part of that tax exempt mission. As a 501(c)(3) organization, YAF exists to advance ideas and is expressly prohibited from political intervention.
On top of bringing unwarranted controversy into a 9/11 remembrance, Ely Memorial High School has violated the free speech rights of its students by engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. YAF is investigating this matter further and is considering legal action against the district and its officers.
If you want to voice your opinion, email the superintendent of Ely public schools at [email protected].