Judge Denies Student’s Right to Distribute Pro-Life Literature

In a case over the right to distribute pro-life literature at school, a federal judge on Friday sided with school officials, saying the distribution of such literature could turn the campus into a “battlefield.”

Last April, then eight-grader Michelle Heinkel, a student in Florida’s Lee County school district, requested the right to hand out pro-life flyers to her friends to announce the annual Day of Remembrance, a national day of silence in memory of abortion victims.

The school superintendent, James Browder, denied Heinkel’s request on the basis that the flyers could be disruptive. Heinkel, represented by Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit against the school district. Final arguments in the case were heard on June 9.

President and General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, Mathew D. Staver, represented Heinkel. Staver argued that the school’s policy regarding literature distribution was unconstitutional because it lacked objective standards and a time limit.

“Public school students have a right to free speech, which includes verbal or written speech, before, after or in between classes,” said Staver regarding the case.

An attorney for the school board agreed that the policy is unconstitutional, but defended Browder’s decision as appropriate.

U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington ruled in favor of the school district. Covington reasoned that if Heinkel was allowed to distribute pro-life literature, abortion-rights groups should also be allowed to distribute information on campus.

“Permitting pro-life and pro-choice literature to be distributed by students in the school hallways would turn the school hallways into a battlefield,” said Covington in her ruling.

However, Covington commented in her decision that the school’s policy is unconstitutional because it “operates to exclude materials that deal with an otherwise permissible subject solely because the materials address the subject from a religious viewpoint.”

Staver expressed surprise at Covington’s ruling and plans to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Attorneys for the school district responded that they will continue to defend their position in the courts.