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Law School Case Brief

M.A.L. v. Kinsland - 543 F.3d 841 (6th Cir. 2008)


School areas such as hallways constitute nonpublic forums. The public schools do not possess all of the attributes of streets, parks, and other traditional public forums that time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Hence, school facilities may be deemed to be public forums only if school authorities have by policy or by practice opened those facilities for indiscriminate use by the general public, or by some segment of the public, such as student organizations. If the facilities have instead been reserved for other intended purposes, communicative or otherwise, then no public forum has been created, and school officials may impose reasonable restrictions on the speech of students, teachers, and other members of the school community. The government does not create a public forum by inaction or by permitting limited discourse, but only by intentionally opening a nontraditional forum for public discourse.


Michael, a 14-year-old, eighth-grade student, participated in the nationwide "3rd Annual Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity" organized by the national group "Stand True." On the designated day, middle and high school students across the country express their views against abortion by wearing red armbands, distributing literature detailing various facts about abortion, and remaining silent throughout the school day with red tape over their mouths to symbolize that they speak for unborn children. Michael arrived at school, with red duct tape over his mouth and wrists, wearing a sweatshirt that said "Pray to End Abortion." Before school started, Michael also distributed leaflets containing abortion statistics to those who approached him. Mrs. Werner, a guidance counselor, told Michael that he must remove the duct tape and either turn his sweatshirt inside-out, take it off, or wear a different shirt. While in Principal Kinsland's office Michael raised the issue of leaflet distribution. Principal Kinsland informed Michael that his leaflets had to be pre-approved before he could distribute them and that, because Michael's leaflets had not been approved, he could not distribute them that day. Michael and his parents filed the instant lawsuit,  expressing an "urgent need" for injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court held that such a regulation of student speech was unconstitutional. 


Did the middle school's publication distribution policy and prohibition on hall way distribution violate Michael’s First Amendment rights?




The court held that school hallways constituted nonpublic forums and that since the school's hallway had not been opened for indiscriminate use by the public, it remained a nonpublic forum. Thus, the school district was entitled to put time, place, and manner restrictions on hallway speech so long as the restrictions were viewpoint neutral and reasonable. The court held that the school's minor regulation of the student's speech was reasonable and that there was no indication that the school's proposed time, place, and manner regulation of the student's speech was based on a desire to suppress the student's political viewpoint. Rather, the school's regulation allowed the student ample opportunity to express his viewpoint to his peers.

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