Copyright © 1997 AFLM
July/August, 1997 Volume XII Number 7 - IN THE NATION
"Back to School" brings arrest
Medina, OH -- Don't try to pass out leaflets at a Medina high school or you might land in jail.
At least this is the lesson the Medina School District hoped to teach pro-life activists Ed Markovich and Kathleen Smith -- and anyone else participating in the national "Back to School" project promoted by Operation Rescue/National (ORN).
But the pro-life activists have another lesson in mind -- for school officials and police who interfere with constitutional rights.
On March 10, Markovich and Smith entered the office of Medina High School assistant principal to announce their intentions of passing out pro-life and gospel literature on a sidewalk adjacent to the school building after classes were dismissed. The location is where school busses pick up students for their ride home.
The assistant principal notified Principal Linda Ocepek, who said it was "not a problem." Ohio law permits private groups to engage in religious, political, educational, or social activities on school grounds after classes are dismissed or when there is no substantial danger or interruption to the school's activities. The law also provides the principal the authority to eject persons or groups which pose a danger or interruption.
Once Markovich and Smith began passing out pamphlets, Ocepek said, "While I strongly disagree with what you are doing, I realize that you have the right to be here."
But this tolerance only lasted until the school board discovered that Markovich, director of Right to Life of Greater Akron, planned to return the following week and ordered Ocepek to eject them if they came back.
Superintendent Charles Irish said, "We'll support any group's right to free speech, but not at our schools if the action disrupts the orderly process of education or the students' coming or going from school."
Irish made it plain that one of his objections was the display of large, dead-baby posters.
Markovich knew there would be trouble when he and Smith returned on March 17 when a police cruiser was seen parked nearby. The two began to pass out the literature when Ocepek handed Markovich a copy of a school policy and told him to leave or he would be arrested.
"I informed her that I would remain on the public sidewalk where she had told me I had a right to be last week," Markovich said.
After this a police detective then a uniformed officer told the pair that they were trespassing and were under arrest. They were taken down to the police station and booked.
Markovich and Smith's attorneys have filed motions to dismiss based upon the order to leave being a violation of state law and the U.S. Constitution.
"The school has attempted, by fits and starts, to chill the exercise of political and religious speech at Medina High School," said Markovich.
One hearing on the motion has been held so far and another is planned.
Markovich and Smith are planning a lawsuit under federal laws prohibiting interference with a citizen's exercise of constitutional rights.