Court Upholds Limits on Student’s Anti-Abortion Leaflets

By Mark Walsh — October 07, 2008 1 min read
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A federal appeals court has upheld a Michigan school district’s restrictions on a student’s distribution of an anti-abortion leaflet at his middle school.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled unanimously that a school principal could place reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on the leaflet.

A student identified in court papers as Michael L. was a 14-year-old 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School in Monroe, Mich., in 2006 when he first sought to distribute leaflets citing abortion statistics on a Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity promoted nationally by the group Stand True.

Michael and his parents parents sued the district. The two sides reached an agreement on some matters, such as allowing the student to wear red tape on his wrists and a shirt that said, “Pray to end abortion.”

But they could not agree on the leaflet distribution, and a federal district judge issued an injunction barring the district from enforcing its leaflet-distribution policy against Michael. The school sought to limit him to putting leaflets on a school bulletin board and distributing them from a table in the school cafeteria.

The district court concluded that the school policy was overbroad, and that Michael’s distribution of the leaflets in school hallways would not cause material and substantial disruption.

In its Oct. 7 decision in M.A.L. v. Kinsland, the 6th Circuit panel reversed the district court.

“The school in this case offered to allow Michael to post his leaflets on bulletin boards in the
hallways and to distribute them in the cafeteria during lunch, despite the fact that Michael has never sought permission to distribute his leaflets in accordance with the school’s distribution policy,” the appeals court said. “This minor regulation of Michael’s speech is eminently reasonable.”

There was no indication the school’s time, place, and manner restrictions on the leaflet distribution were intended to suppress Michael’s anti-abortion message, the court said.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.