An anti-abortion student group in Roswell, New Mexico, called Relentless, and a local pastor handed out hundreds of small rubber dolls resembling 12-week old fetuses, to two area high schools, with the intent of securing student hearts and minds in the abortion debate. After all, who could see a tiny fetus-replica and wish it any harm, right?
In an episode of what could be called "teachable moments gone horribly wrong," Relentless and Pastor Aguilar may have overestimated the high school students’ capacity for empathy and maturity. Within minutes of the start of the school day, students were found bouncing the dismembered heads of fetus dolls against the school walls.
Apparently, the two high schools were entirely disrupted by the appearance of the dolls, as they were pulled apart, thrown around classrooms, into wastebaskets, covered in hand sanitizer and lit on fire, and impaled by pencils. Doll-related disruptions also included throwing the “dolls and doll parts at the ‘popcorn’ ceilings so they became stuck…. Dolls were used to plug toilets. 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 in the best cases, ten minutes were spent on the disruptions; at worst, entire lessons were derailed. Despite lack of notification or permission from school administration, the students attempted multiple distributions of the dolls at both schools, possibly assuming that the students would eventually begin to love and cherish the dolls. The student group even attempted to woo the faculty by “surreptitiously” leaving 1,000 donuts in the teachers’ lounges at both schools, along with Relentless stickers. The donuts were removed due to “food safety concerns.” When the schools attempted to ban the dolls and other unauthorized distributions, the student group sued citing First Amendment rights.
A unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit disagreed, explaining that a school may limit student speech when it can “reasonably determine” such speech would “‘would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in operation of the school,’ or ‘impinge upon the rights of other students.’”
I wonder whether Relentless would have felt the same way about First Amendment rights if a pro-choice group began handing out condoms.