St. Paul, Minnesota — A sixth grade student in Minnesota that was barred from sharing pro-life literature with her classmates earlier this year has filed a federal lawsuit against her school with the help of her father and a prominent Christian legal organization.
In February of this year, Annie Zinos distributed fliers regarding the issue of abortion to her classmates during lunchtime. One of the fliers read, “Save the baby humans. Stop abortion.” Several of her friends joined her in passing out the materials to interested peers.
However, after some of the students complained and asserted that the flyers were “offensive,” Annie and her friends were called into Director Miranda Morton’s office. Morton then advised the students that they could not distribute the literature at any time on school property, including instances when another classmate personally requests a copy.
Annie’s father, Nick, a Catholic book retailer, then emailed Morton to express concern.
“[B]eing called into the office before her peers without having done any wrong, and then being told in [the director’s] office that they could no longer do what they had been doing, was unfair and perhaps a humiliating experience for my daughter and for the others involved,” he wrote.
Morton forwarded Zinos’ correspondence to Executive Director Brian Bloomfield, who responded by contending that the topic of abortion was not age appropriate for middle school students. He advised that the school has a right to censor literature that it deems contrary to its mission.
“[T]he school has parameters in place for political, religious, and controversial speech for students in the School of Rhetoric (high school) only, put in place last year [due] to parent concerns about younger students being exposed to such ideas and the goals of the classical trivium,” he explained.
“The school has a right to censor students without violating their free speech,” Bloomfield continued. “The conversation that Mrs. Morton had with students this week supports the school’s legal right to censor certain types of speech as well as school policy which dictates that such political activism is limited to students in the School of Rhetoric only.”
He advised Zinos that Annie will have to wait until she enters high school to distribute literature pertaining to the issue of abortion.
“At school, our focus is learning,” Bloomfield asserted. “If your daughter wishes to form an official extracurricular club about the pro-life movement when she is a freshman, Nova will fully support that endeavor (just as we had a pro-life club last year).”
As Annie desires to gain the right to freely share literature on the premises surrounding topics that are of importance to her and her peers, the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit Thursday on her behalf.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” stated ADF attorney Matt Sharp. “The law on this is extremely clear: free speech cannot be censored simply because it expresses a certain viewpoint that administrators don’t favor. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
The lawsuit notes that other students have been permitted to distribute literature during non-instructional time, and have not been censored. The current school policy requires prior approval before any distribution is allowed to take place.
“Students should not need a permission slip every time they wish to express their views on current events of the day,” concurred ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope that Nova Classical Academy will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”