School Prohibits Pro-Life Literature, Florida Student Sues in Response

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 1, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

School Prohibits Pro-Life Literature, Florida Student Sues in Response

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 1, 2004

Fort Meyers, FL ( — A junior high school student and her mother are suing the Lee County School District in Florida after her school prohibited her from distributing pro-life literature.

Michelle Heinkel and her mother, Debra Heinkel, filed a federal lawsuit saying the school violated her First Amendment rights when it disallowed her to pass out information on abortion and abortion alternatives.

Michelle is an eighth grade student at Cypress Lake Middle School. Last April, she and several other students wanted to present information about fetal development and abortion alternatives to their classmates.

But Cypress Lake denied their request and said "the documents would tend to create a substantial disruption in the school environment."

Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, a pro-life firm representing Michelle, said the prohibition of the literature is unconstitutional.

"Students have the right to communicate with one another during noninstructional time, and this includes distributing pro-life literature. Religious speech and pro-life speech are not illegitimate twins. Both are protected by the First Amendment," Staver explained.

The lawsuit says Michelle and her friends want to distribute the pro-life information on non class time and in a manner that doesn’t disrupt normal school activities.

Debra Heinkel told the News-Press that her daughter plans to fight the school’s decision.

“She’s standing up for what she believes in and I’m standing up behind her,” she said. “At school, they’re allowed to talk about condoms and other sex protections. Why can’t they talk about abortions and other stuff?”

School district attorney Keith Martin told the newspaper the district has “a blanket policy” against distributing literature.

“We’ve taken a position that our schools are places where children come to learn,” Martin said, adding that the district’s goal is to “zealously protect the educational environment” and keep it free of distractions.

The District’s Literature Distribution Policy also specifically bans the distribution of any literature that contains religious symbols or profanity.

The policy requires all students to submit literature to the Superintendent for review, and every piece of literature must contain a disclaimer stating that the District does not endorse the literature.

An emergency hearing is scheduled at the U.S. District Court in Fort Myers on April 12.