An animal rights group has sued the Granite School District, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department and others, claiming they were deprived of their First Amendment rights to protest.

As cars rushed by in front of Eisenhower Junior High, 4351 S. Redwood Road, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced it had filed the lawsuit on Wednesday as part of an ongoing protest against "a campaign of death and destruction"-- a McDonald's restaurant pennant which had flown on the school's flagpole.PETA has protested the flag for weeks prior to filing the lawsuit, claiming the school promoted the world's largest buyer of beef and a diet linked to obesity and heart disease. On Jan. 20, PETA claims its protest came to an abrupt end when police officers and sheriff's deputies ordered protesters to leave.

But Eisenhower principal Lori Gardner, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said the PETA demonstrations at a busy intersection when classes are dismissed at the onset of rush-hour traffic placed students' lives in danger.

"I think the concern was that when you've got 1,400 students exiting school either by car, bus, or walking right on Redwood Road at the start of evening traffic . . . we can't have anything that's distracting to drivers."

Gardner said the pennant was simply a show of gratitude for an organization that has contributed meaningfully to support schoolchildren and their families.

She added that the restaurant has agreed to discontinue flying the pennant in favor of a banner similar to the school's other business partners, including Little Caesar's Pizza and Fred Meyer.

Superintendent Steven Ronnenkamp -- also named in the lawsuit -- said that schools all over the district have business partners, and that schools "do not get into the politics of a particular company."

The lawsuit says district police officers, along with deputies from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department, intimidated PETA demonstrators as they protested on the public sidewalk in front of Eisenhower Junior High. PETA said the statute that permitted the officers' actions is unconstitutional, and they plan to use the incident at Eisenhower as a mechanism to change the law.

The statute allows principals or administrators to order people from public streets and sidewalks if they deem their actions to "interfere with the peaceful conduct of the activities of the school or disrupt the school or its pupils."

PETA disagrees, claiming the statute violates their constitutional rights.

"People should be able to stand on the sidewalk and exercise their First Amendment rights," said PETA attorney Brian Barnard. "This statute is too vague and gives principals and police too much power."