CINCINNATI (CN) – A public middle school in Michigan had the right to regulate when, where and how an eighth-grade student distributed anti-abortion leaflets, the 6th Circuit ruled. A three-judge panel reversed a permanent injunction against the school and the $1 in nominal damages awarded to the plaintiff student.
Judge Rogers said the school district “is entitled to put time, place, and manner restrictions on hallway speech so long as the restrictions are viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the school’s interest in the effectiveness of the forum’s intended purpose.”
The plaintiff, referred to only as “Michael,” distributed the leaflets in hallways at Jefferson Middle School as part of the nationwide “3rd Annual Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity,” organized by the national group Stand True. On Oct. 24, 2006, he came to school with red duct tape over his mouth and wrists, wearing a sweatshirt that said “Pray to End Abortion.” Principal Stephen Kinsland told Michael to take off the tape and sweatshirt, because they disrupted the classroom. He also informed Michael that students need to ask his permission before posting or distributing literature.
Michael never formally asked to distribute the leaflets. On Jan. 24, 2007, he and his parents sued the school, citing an “urgent need” for injunctive and declaratory relief that would allow Michael to participate in a similar protest on Jan. 31.
Two days before the protest, the school agreed to let Michael post leaflets on hallway bulletin boards and distribute them from a cafeteria table at lunch.
But the plaintiffs rejected the offer, claiming Michael has a constitutional right to distribute leaflets in the hallways. They cited Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the Supreme Court upheld students’ right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts sided with Michael and his parents, but the appeals court overturned her ruling.
Judge Rogers pointed out that the school in Tinker sought to silence students, while Jefferson Middle School had only tried to impose “content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral” regulations on student speech.
“Time, place and manner restrictions may be enforced even in a traditional public forum so long as they are content neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication,” Rogers concluded.