Student who was not allowed to distribute anti-abortion fliers sues Fla. school

FLORIDA — A eighth-grader is asking a federal court torule that she can distribute anti-abortion literature to fellow students at aFort Myers middle school after the school denied her and an anti-abortiongroup’s request to distribute similar material in April 2003. CypressLake Middle School student Michelle Heinkel and her mother filed a federallawsuit against Lee County School District after Heinkel and Freedom to Learn,an anti-abortion group based in Florida, were denied permission to pass outliterature during the group’s “Day of Remembrance” on April 16, 2003. Heinkel isseeking a court order that would allow her to distribute literature during thisyear’s “Day of Remembrance” on April 16, during which participants rememberthose affected by abortion. The school district has consistently deniedstudents the ability to distribute material on campus in order to avoiddisrupting the learning environment, said school district attorney KeithMartin. Though students are not allowed to distribute literature,nonstudent groups may submit literature for potential distribution as long asthe literature does not contain religious symbols, profanity or material thatwould create a disruption, Martin said. The literature distributionpolicy requires the superintendent to review all literature prior todistribution, and each piece of literature must include a disclaimer that thedistrict does not endorse its message.Heinkel said the school was wrongto deny her request to distribute literature during noninstructional timebecause it would not lead to a disruption. “Our forefathers have givenme [that right]. Now [the school district] is going to slaughter [the First]Amendment,” Heinkel said. Mathew Staver, Heinkel’s lawyer and presidentof the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious freedomcases, said his firm has filed similar lawsuits and has never lost. “Educators need educating,” Staver said. “For some reason, school officialshave a hard time distinguishing between what students can do and what schoolscan do. This case puts religion in the same category as profanity. It’sincredible that they’ve done that. Why they think they can do it is beyondme.”A hearing is scheduled for April 12 in U.S. District Court in FortMyers.