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Animal-rights group continues to challenge Utah limits on school protests

By The Associated Press

04.05.01

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SALT LAKE CITY — Eight activists, including one dressed as a spotted cow, distributed veggie burgers outside federal court yesterday in support of a case that could determine what kind of demonstrations are legal at Utah schools.

A federal judge postponed ruling on the lawsuit brought by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose members were threatened with arrest in early 1999 after handing out fliers promoting vegetarianism at a Taylorsville junior high school.

The animal-rights group is suing the Granite School District, claiming its members' free-speech rights were limited.

Between five and 12 PETA members distributed leaflets and carried signs on three consecutive Wednesdays at Eisenhower Junior High School, which flew a McDonald's corporate sponsorship flag and offered free meals to students. PETA claims the fast-food company mistreats animals and promotes an unhealthy diet.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson asked defense attorney Alain Balmanno what kind of disruption the protesters caused kids in the classroom.

"So they looked outside the (classroom) windows? Is that so bad in this land of the free and home of the brave?" Judge Benson asked.

The lawsuit hinges on a state statute passed in 1973 that allows school administrators to prohibit behavior that disrupts school activities. PETA attorney Brian Barnard said the statute is overly broad and allows schools to silence speech they don't agree with.

"If my clients were picketing about the football team, none of this would have happened," Barnard said.

Benson canceled an April 19 trial date because there is no dispute over the facts of the case. He did not say when he would make a decision on the lawsuit.

Update

PETA claims demonstration at Utah school was protected speech
Animal-rights group makes case before federal appeals court, saying that authorities had no right to stop anti-beef protest.  05.09.02

Previous

Animal-rights activists challenge law barring disruptive behavior near schools
Members of PETA ask judge to strike down Utah law, claiming their free-speech rights were violated during a demonstration last year.  04.04.00

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