A federal appeals court ruled that an anti-abortion group did not have the right to distribute rubber fetus dolls to a high school because the students destructive behavior on the dolls outweighed the group’s free speech to distribute them, according to Think Progress.
Students from an anti-abortion group called “Relentless” distributed rubber fetuses as propaganda to “put God back into the schools” at two high schools in Roswell, New Mexico, only to have the dolls destroyed in various ways.
“Both schools experienced doll-related disruptions that day. Many students pulled the dolls apart, tearing the heads off and using them as rubber balls or sticking them on pencil tops,” the ruling from United States Court of Appeals 10th Circuit said (PDF). “Others threw dolls and doll parts at the ‘popcorn’ ceilings so they became stuck. Dolls were used to plug toilets. Several students covered the dolls in hand sanitizer and lit them on fire. One or more male students removed the dolls’ heads, inverted the bodies to make them resemble penises, and hung them on the outside of their pants’ zippers.”
Teachers complained that the distribution of the dolls was distracting, according to the ruling. “While teachers were trying to instruct, students threw dolls and doll heads across classrooms, at one another, and into wastebaskets,” the ruling continued. “Some teachers said the disruptions took eight to 10 minutes each class period, and others said their teaching plans were derailed entirely. An honors freshman English class canceled a scheduled test because students had become engaged in name calling and insults over the topic of abortion. A Roswell security officer described the day as ‘a disaster’ because of the dolls.”
But according to the ruling, issued on Monday, the members of “Relentless” were, well, relentless about distributing the dolls. “Relentless attempted to distribute the dolls again, believing it was their Christian duty and constitutional right. Administrators at both schools immediately stopped this second distribution.”
And it seems the students were only disruptive about the fetus dolls. “On the same day, other students at Roswell High were allowed to distribute Valentine’s Day-related items such as candy, cards, and stuffed animals. The record does not tell whether any students distributed large quantities of these items or whether they received prior approval. There is no evidence of disturbance from the Valentine’s Day-related distributions.”
Relentless also distributed wristbands with the words “I’m Worth Waiting For,” doughnuts, stickers, plastic Easter eggs, pencils and dog tags all carrying anti-abortion messages, none of which appeared to cause disruption.
The court ruled that the school was correct to block the distribution of the fetus dolls because the administration correctly anticipated they would cause disciplinary problems. “Plaintiffs’ free exercise and equal protection claims fail because the decision to stop the distribution was not based on religion, and Plaintiffs failed to show they were treated differently from similarly situated students.”
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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