Judge Rules Florida School Can Prohibit Student’s Pro-Life Literature

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 15, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Judge Rules Florida School Can Prohibit Student’s Pro-Life Literature

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
April 15, 2004

Fort Myers, FL (LifeNews.com) — A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that a Florida junior high school has the right to prohibit a pro-life student from distributing pro-life brochures and abortion alternative information. However, the student involved may be able to disseminate the information if she makes the request herself.

Michelle Heinkel and her mother, Debra Heinkel, filed a federal lawsuit saying Cypress Lake Middle School in Fort Myers violated her First Amendment rights.

But U.S. District Judge John E. Steele, in a 16-page written decision, disagreed.

His decision was not available at press time, but attorneys for Michelle believe Judge Steele based his decision on the fact that a pro-life organization asked the school on Michelle’s behalf to distribute the literature. Had Michelle made the request directly, she may have been more likely to win the case.

"He (Steele) was probably aiming toward us at first, but since I didn’t do it personally he could have changed his perspective," Michelle told the Naples News.

Joel Oster of the Liberty Counsel, a pro-life law firm, said he expected to appeal Steele’s decision.

Oster said he learned of the decision from news reports after the court had closed on Monday and he told the Naples newspaper he could only guess why Steele had decided against Michelle.

"I think he (Steele) was troubled because Michelle didn’t make the request," Oster said, confirming Michelle’s suspicion.

Michelle filed a request with the school on Wednesday to distribute the literature.

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

But Cypress Lake denied their request, made for them by a Florida-based pro-life group called Freedom to Learn, and said "the documents would tend to create a substantial disruption in the school environment."

The lawsuit said 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.

During the hearing, the school defended their decision.

"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.

Gonzalez indicated that the decision may have been different had Michelle made the request herself.