by Steven Ertelt
August 29, 2006
Atlanta, GA (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court unanimously struck down a Florida school board’s policy that banned students from distributing pro-life literature. Students had problems with the Lee County School Board preventing them from distributing pro-life brochures at their junior high school.
While in seventh grade in Cypress Lake Middle School, Michelle Heinkel sought permission to distribute pro-life literature about a special memorial day for unborn children who had been killed in abortions.
However, Superintendent James Browder denied the request.
Browder said the school board’s policy prohibited students from distributing literature that is political, religious or proselytizing.
The next year, Browder again denied Heinkel’s request, along with the request of Nate Cordray, a student at Riverdale High School.
The federal district court upheld the policy, but the court of appeals found it unconstitutional.
In its decision, the appeals court ruled that the policy’s ban on all political and religious literature was an unconstitutional content-based restriction. The court also ruled that the policy gave too much unrestricted discretion to school officials to deny speech.
It struck down the entire policy as a violation of the First Amendment.
Erik Stanley, chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, a pro-life law firm, represented the students.
"Public school students have a right to free speech, which includes verbal or written speech, before, after or in between classes," he said in a statement LifeNews.com obtained. "A school’s desire to squelch speech because of discomfort with the message is unconstitutional."
Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, argued the case before the district court and appeals court.
"Religious and political speech are twin sisters, without which we have no freedom," Staver explained. "Public schools may ban obscenity and libel, but religious and political speech does not stop at the schoolhouse door."
"Banning religious speech sends the wrong message that religion is taboo or second class, which proposition neither this court nor the Constitution is willing to tolerate," Staver concluded. "Educators need education about American history and the Constitution."
Related web sites:
Liberty Counsel – https://www.lc.org