Roswell high school students sue over confiscated rubber fetuses

By Ron Brynaert
Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:07 EDT
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At Legal Blog Watch, Eric Lipman jokes, “And you thought nothing interesting would ever happen again in Roswell, N.M., after the aliens landed.”

OnPoint News reported yesterday on a complaint (.pdf) filed in federal district court by a group of students at two Roswell high schools who were disciplined for handing out rubber fetuses with attached bible verses on school grounds earlier this year. School administrators not only shut down the distribution, but confiscated the fetuses, and apparently have yet to return them.

The complaint, filed by lawyers at Liberty Counsel, hews pretty tightly to the pro-life line; it uses the word “fetus” only when directly quoting from the statements or e-mails of the defendants. Otherwise, the objects at issue are referred to as “rubber babies … the actual size and weight of a developing unborn child at twelve (12) weeks’ gestation,” which, somehow, sounds even creepier than “rubber fetus.”

The OnPoint News report added, “Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969), officials can only censor student speech that would seriously disrupt classroom or school activities. And pro-life activists in the nation’s schools have a track record of success in cases involving such materials as buttons, t-shirts and flyers.”

Earlier this year, a New Jersey judge found a student was improperly suspended for distributing pro-life flyers, noting there was no evidence that other students were upset by the flyers and “this somehow caused a disruption to the learning environment.” C.H. v. Bridgeton Board of Education.

But there appears to be no case that addresses the distribution in schools of a graphic pro-life prop such as a rubber fetus.

The Relentless in Roswell plaintiffs started out handing out more innocuous religious materials, including candy canes and painted “affirmation rocks.” On Jan. 29, they first attempted to distribute the rubber fetuses to which they had attached, in addition to the Bible verse, contact information for a church-affiliated pregnancy counseling center.

Before classes started that day, a Goddard High administrator allegedly told the Relentless students, “It’s time to shut this down … Some people are getting offended.” He then confiscated containers holding hundreds of the rubber babies.

“As far as offensiveness, the rubber fetuses may be more extreme than flyers and t-shirts,” Matt Reynolds blogs. “But in the recent ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ case, the Supreme Court rejected the idea that student speech is ‘proscribable because it is plainly ‘offensive.’ Morse v. Frederick, 127 S. Ct. 2618 (2007).”

Reynolds concludes, “Even if the dolls upset some students, the Roswell district won’t carry the day unless it can show ‘a disruption to the learning environment.’”

Liberty University is an evangelical school founded in 1971 by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

In November of 2009, RAW STORY reported, “A prominent social-conservative activist group is using comments made by readers on a gay-rights Web site as ‘evidence’ that the LGBT movement is mulling using ‘organized terrorism’ against Christians.”

The Liberty Counsel released a statement on Monday linking Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged shooter in last week’s Fort Hood massacre, to the gay-rights movement.

“In the wake of the horrific act of Islamic domestic terrorism at Fort Hood Texas, it has been learned that militant homosexual activists recently made similar online postings to those of Nidal Malik Hasan, threatening additional acts of terrorism against Christians,” stated an email from Matt Barber, Liberty Counsel’s director of cultural affairs, as well as an associate dean at Liberty University Law School.

The Liberty Counsel has been a prominent promoter of conservative social values for two decades. Last year the group announced its seventh annual “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” which argues for the use of the word “Christmas” instead of “holidays” and seeks to suss out who is a “friend” of Christmas and who is a “foe.”

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