On 2nd May 2023, Marielle Williamson, a senior at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, US, filed a lawsuit against her school district and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violating her First Amendment right to share information at school about alternatives to cow’s milk and the health concerns about dairy consumption. She says that she was told by her school that she could not share information about plant-based milk or be critical of the dairy industry in the school cafeteria unless she provided pro-dairy content as well.
Williamson said to PCRM, “Our school is riddled with pro-dairy posters and promotions. The fact that a differing perspective from a student was shut down goes to show that the USDA is more focused on milk sales than the well-being of students. This lawsuit was the only way to make people aware of how wrong this is.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a free speech lawsuit on Williamson’s behalf in federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the school district unconstitutionally discriminated based on viewpoint by prohibiting Williamson from distributing information highlighting dairy’s negative impacts. The lawsuit also argues that a federal law mandating that any “school that participates in the school lunch program…shall not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk products by the school (or by a person approved by the school) at any time or any place” unconstitutionally restricts the free speech of students.
This is not only a vegan issue, but a public health issue. Many people cannot digest lactose from cow’s milk, including around 95% of Asian Americans, 60% to 80% of African Americans, 80% to 100% of American Indians, and 50% to 80% of Hispanics. About 75% of the Los Angeles Unified School District student population is Hispanic.