Florida Student Can’t Distribute Pro-Life Info on Abortion, Judge Says

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 4, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Florida Student Can’t Distribute Pro-Life Info on Abortion, Judge Says Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
July 4, 2005

Ft. Myers, FL (LifeNews.com) — A federal judge has ruled that a 15 year-old girl can’t distribute pro-life literature in her school because he claims it would lead to a divisive "battlefield" in the school’s hallways.

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

The policy of the Lee County school district prohibits students from handing out brochures or other literature on campuses.

In a 21-page order, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington sided with the school above Heinkel’s free speech rights. He said if the school allowed Heinkel to distribute the pro-life brochures, it would have to allow abortion advocates to disseminate materials as well.

"Permitting pro-life and pro-choice literature to be distributed by students in the school hallways would turn the school hallways into a battlefield," Covington wrote.

Covington did say that a school policy prohibiting ads on the school grounds that officials deem obscene, libelous, political or religious is not appropriate.

"The policy operates to exclude materials that deal with an otherwise permissible subject solely because the materials address the subject from a religious viewpoint," Covington wrote. "For this reason … the policy is unconstitutional."

Mathew Staver, an attorney from Liberty Counsel, a pro-life law firm representing Heinkel and her mother, said he was surprised by Covington’s decision. He told the Associated Press he plans to appeal the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"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.

"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 during a hearing.

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

Michelle was an 8th grade student at the school at the time and she and several other students wanted to present information about fetal development and abortion alternatives to their classmates.

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.

"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?"

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