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Girl can't hand out anti-abortion pamphlets, judge rules

By The Associated Press
04.16.04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A federal judge has denied a 14-year-old student's request to go against a district policy and distribute anti-abortion pamphlets at school.

Cypress Lake Middle School eighth-grader Michelle Heinkel wanted to hand out the literature to classmates on a "day of remembrance" for abortion victims despite being barred last year because the Lee County school district's blanket policy bans student distribution of pamphlets.

Heinkel and her mother sued the school district last month and asked for a judge to order the district to allow her to distribute the pamphlets. The suit said the girl "has a sincere religious belief that abortion is wrong, and is sinful," and she wanted to distribute literature about its dangers.

U.S. District Judge John E. Steele issued a 16-page order late on April 14 refusing to grant the girl's request. But the order wasn't immediately available to the media and the reasoning behind the judge's decision wasn't clear, The News-Press of Fort Myers reported.

Attorney Joel Oster of Orlando represented Heinkel and called the board's policy unconstitutional, vague and a restraint on free speech. Oster is with Liberty Counsel, a national law firm that specializes in religious-freedom cases.

Attorney Thomas M. Gonzalez, who represented the school board, told Steele the ban was particularly important at a middle school, where the girl wanted to distribute pamphlets featuring graphic descriptions of partial-birth abortion to students as young as 11.

"The bottom line is that plaintiffs have not shown a substantial likelihood that they will succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim," Steele wrote, according to The News-Press.

Oster had no comment on Steele's ruling. School board attorney Keith Martin was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "We felt our position with respect to distribution of materials was appropriate and legally defensible" and that "this order establishes that."


Related

Pa. school, student settle suit over anti-abortion leaflets

Sarah Hollen says she was wrongly prevented from handing out fliers; superintendent confirms deal, denies free-speech violation. 01.16.07

School can bar teen from handing out anti-abortion fliers
By David L. Hudson Jr. 6th Circuit upholds Michigan school's literature-distribution policy, finding hallway isn't a public forum. 10.10.08

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