Public Schoolers Take Anti-Abortion Activism to Classrooms–and to Court
Culture wars issues like abortion long have been fought by adults in public arenas. Now, though, abortion is heading to a different kind of public setting: schools.
And recent court cases–one on the heels of the other–involving the students' rights to express their pro-life views could mean that public schools are the "newest battleground over abortion–much to the dismay of beleaguered school officials," writes Charles C. Haynes in a Washington Post column.
Parents of a sixth-grade student in Minnesota have filed suit against their daughter's charter school for allegedly violating her free speech rights when officials stopped her from handing out pro-life fliers. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that school policy requires students to get permission before handing out any materials, but that a school director said "handing them out was not allowed before, during, or after school."
Meanwhile, church youth group students in New Mexico are fighting their schools over the distribution of "fetus dolls," two-inch, plastic dolls designed to help students visualize the actual size of a 12-week-old fetus. The students were handing out the dolls to all students as they entered the school building when administrators decided to take possession of the dolls.
The students had distributed evangelism materials at their schools on previous occasions, so they argued that the schools' actions infringed on their free-speech rights. However, the students are up against an additional obstacle: the ruckus they caused.
Significant school-day disruptions–including the use of the dolls to plug toilets, and start fires–led the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule "that restrictions on the dolls and policies requiring students to obtain approval before distributing non-school-sponsored materials did not violate the First Amendment rights of five students."
School speech cases are often weighed against what is known as the Tinker standard, the precedent set in the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court case. In that case, the Court famously ruled that students do not their constitutional rights at the school doors, and that they can express their views unless school authorities "forecast substantial disruption of or material interference" of the school day.