School Sued After Prohibiting Student From Distributing Religious and Pro-Life Literature on the "Day of Remembrance"

Mar 30, 2004

LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA - Michelle Heinkel and her mother, Debra Heinkel, filed a federal lawsuit against the Lee County School District after Michelle was denied the right to distribute literature about abortion and abortion alternatives to her fellow classmates during the "Day of Remembrance." Michelle is represented by Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, and Joel L. Oster, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel. Liberty Counsel is a national public interest litigation, education and policy organization specializing in religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.

Michelle is an eighth grade student at Cypress Lake Middle School. During last year's "Day of Remembrance," Michelle and several other students wanted to distribute pro-life literature about abortion and abortion alternatives. This year's "Day of Remembrance" is scheduled for April 16, 2004, and Michelle again wants to distribute religious and pro-life literature. The "Day of Remembrance" is a day set aside to remember the 46 million children who have been lost to elective abortion and to remember the pain experienced by women who have had an abortion. The literature that Michelle wanted to pass out contained factual information about a baby's development in the womb and provided personal stories about the experiences women who have had abortions endured.

The School District denied Michelle's request to distribute the pro-life literature, claiming "the documents would tend to create a substantial disruption in the school environment." The District's Literature Distribution Policy specifically bans the distribution of any literature that contains religious symbols, profanity, or any material that would "tend to create a substantial disruption in the school environment." The Policy requires all students to submit literature to the Superintendent for review, and every piece of literature must contain a disclaimer stating that the District does not endorse the literature.

The thought that the literature would create a disruption comes as a surprise to Dr. John Beasley, the President of Freedom to Learn, the group sponsoring the Day of Remembrance. Dr. Beasley stated, "The students who distribute pro-life literature do so with dignity and respect, and we have never had an much as one negative incident stemming from the literature distribution."

Staver stated, "The school's censorship of pro-life literature is unconstitutional. 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."

An emergency hearing is scheduled in federal court on April 12.

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