A former Illinois high school student recently settled a lawsuit against her high school over allegations that the school violated her constitutional right to participate in a counter-protest to her classmates in 2018. Recent reports say that the school agreed to pay her $35,000 as part of a settlement.
Madison Oster, then 16, and her father Jeremy Oster filed the suit in July of 2018 alleging that the Hononegah Community High School violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to demonstrate against an anti-gun protest in March of 2018.
At the time, students were encouraged to protest gun violence and agitate for tougher gun laws following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on high school grounds. However, Oster along with other pro-gun students wanted to counter-protest and promote the Second Amendment.
The group of students carried pro-gun, pro-life, and pro-law enforcement signs, but were directed to stand on the sidewalk away from the main protest on the high school football field. The lawsuit alleged that the pro-gun group was subjected to verbal abuse from other students and unfair treatment by the school staff.
When Oster asked Executive Associate Principal Chad Dougherty why the group would not be allowed to counter-protest with the other students he said he was afraid that the pro-gun students would “disturb the peace” and “start a fight,” alleged the lawsuit.
“One student yelled at Madison to kill herself. Another student took pictures of Madison’s group, one of which reportedly became an online meme and method of ridicule among the other HCHS students,” stated the lawsuit. “Finally and ironically, before allowing them to return to class, Dougherty warned the small pro-gun-rights group not to bully the students with different views.”
While the pro-gun counter-protesters were eventually allowed back onto the field the staff still separated them from the other protesters. When they asked Principal Eric Flohr why they weren’t allowed to join the others, he allegedly told them “You are the only ones who feel that way,” before walking off.
“It is unconscionable for school officials to allow this sort of thing, much less enable it,” said the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb, who contributed to the lawsuit. “Students with different viewpoints retain their free speech rights. When school officials allow those students to be harassed and bullied, something must be done.”
“First Amendment rights are just as important as Second Amendment rights,” he said, “especially when being used to protect those Second Amendment rights.”
With the lawsuit settled, the Oster’s allegations against the high school along with Superintendent Michael Dugan, Principal Dougherty and retired Principal Eric Flohr have been dismissed.
“Ms. Oster is very glad the matter was resolved,” said the Oster’s attorney David Sigale. “I am very proud that Ms. Oster fought for freedom of speech in this case, and now, as a member of the U.S. military, is helping to protect everyone’s freedoms.”