Judge Hears Florida Student’s Pro-Life Censorship Lawsuit

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 13, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Judge Hears Florida Student’s Pro-Life Censorship Lawsuit

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
April 13, 2004

Fort Myers, FL LifeNews.com) — An attorney for a pro-life student told a judge on Monday that a Florida junior high school had no right to prohibit her and her friends 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.

"They still have First Amendment rights in the schoolhouse," Joel Oster, an Orlando attorney, told the judge.

But the News-Press newspaper reports that the school is defending its position saying it is not violating Heinkel’s rights.

"We just believe it shouldn’t be in a middle school context that that’s debated," attorney Thomas Gonzalez of Tampa said on behalf of the Lee County School District.

Gonzalez said the materials would cause the students to have questions and teachers were not prepared to lead discussions on the topic of abortion.

U.S. District Judge John E. Steele, after hearing 80 minutes of testimony, said he would issue a ruling "as soon as I can," according to the paper.

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."

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.

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.

"She’s standing up for what she believes in and I’m standing up behind her," Debra Heinkel told the News-Press. "At school, they’re allowed to talk about condoms and other sex protections. Why can’t they talk about abortions and other stuff?"

The school has a "blanket" policy preventing literature distribution, says school district attorney Keith Martin.

But Oster said the ban is vague and unconstitutionally limits speech.

"They cannot have a flat ban on speech," Oster said.