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Student and Youth Rights

The ACLU works to ensure that constitutional protections are extended to young people and students. 

RALEIGH – The North Carolina House of Representatives today approved a Senate bill that would require public colleges and universities to recognize and grant funding and facilities to student groups that discriminate by ousting leaders or students based on their personal beliefs. SB 719 requires recognition of groups that “order their internal affairs” and “resolve the organization’s disputes” according to their faith or mission – which could be interpreting as kicking out or denying membership to certain students. The bill now heads to the governor for his signature.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina opposes the bill.

“This bill would force taxpayers to fund school groups even when they discriminate by rejecting students based on their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “The right of student groups to organize and meet without school resources is not in question.  The only question is whether colleges and universities should be forced to fund and lend other resources to groups that discriminate not only in how they select student leaders, but potentially in how they select or determine membership.”   


RALEIGH – The North Carolina House of Representatives today voted 77 to 39 to pass House Bill 725, the Young Offender Rehabilitation Act, which would place 16 and 17 year olds charged with misdemeanors under the jurisdiction of North Carolina’s juvenile justice system by 2020. North Carolina is currently one of only two states in the nation that treats 16 and 17 year olds as adults in its criminal justice system.

“Today’s bipartisan vote is a hugely important step toward ensuring that young people in our criminal justice system are not only protected, but given a chance to correct course,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “Young people who land in the adult criminal justice system are disproportionately at risk while in custody, more likely to return to criminal behavior than those placed in the juvenile system, and denied jobs and educational opportunities that could help them turn their lives around and contribute to society. We urge the Senate to follow the example set by these bipartisan House members and vote in favor of HB 725.”

A recent survey by the ACLU-NC found that virtually all of North Carolina’s county jails are failing to comply with new federal regulations set by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires facilities to house 16 and 17 year olds separately from adult inmates, though many are working toward compliance.


BOONE, N.C. – The Watauga County Board of Education tonight voted 3-2 to keep Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” in the county’s public school curriculum for sophomore honors English students after a challenge to the board had been brought. Two board-sanctioned committees had previously voted unanimously to keep the book in the curriculum.  

Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation, released the following statement:

“We applaud the Watauga County Board of Education for doing the right thing and supporting the freedom to read. Sophomore honors English students in Watauga schools will now be able to once again read ‘The House of the Spirits’ with the benefit of faculty led classroom discussions, and parents who object to assigned texts still have the option to choose an alternative reading option.”


BOONE, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) will join members of the Watauga County community, including parents and students, on Thursday, February 27, to speak out against censorship and urge local officials to vote against calls to ban Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” and other literature from the county high school curriculum.

The Watauga County Board of Education will consider a final appeal seeking to remove Allende’s critically acclaimed novel, which appears on statewide reading lists, from the county school curriculum later that evening. Two board-sanctioned committees have previously voted unanimously to keep the book in the curriculum.

“The freedom to read is essential to a healthy democracy,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. “We’re proud to join students and parents from Watauga County in urging their local officials to do the right thing and not go down the slippery slope of banning books that promote critical thinking and classroom dialogue. We hope Watauga officials will join their peers in Randolph and Brunswick counties who earlier this school year recognized the danger of banning books and in the end voted in favor of the freedom to read.”  


CANTON, N.C. – The administration of a public high school in western North Carolina has agreed to allow a group of students to form a club for nonreligious students after the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent officials a letter explaining how denial of the club would violate federal law.

“Students of all beliefs, religious and nonreligious, deserve an equal opportunity to meet in a safe and welcoming space where they can socialize and discuss their views with peers,” said ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook, who co-signed the February 11 letter. “We’re very pleased that this situation is now resolved.”

Students at Pisgah High School in Canton have been trying since October 2013 to form a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance, which seeks to create welcoming communities for nonreligious students, but were told by officials that the club would not “fit in” and could not find a faculty sponsor. The school has about 30 extracurricular clubs, including at least two religious clubs: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Key Club.