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A St. Paul sixth-grader’s father has gone to court, alleging that Nova Classical Academy violated her free-speech rights by blocking her from handing out fliers opposing abortion.

Nicholas Zinos, a Catholic book retailer and reviewer, sued Thursday in federal court on behalf of his daughter, Annie, over an incident that happened during lunchtime Feb. 27 at the St. Paul charter school, an independent public school.

Annie and her friends were handing out fliers that had two phrases X’ed out: “Save the baby seals” and “Save the baby whales.” Next came “Save the baby humans STOP ABORTION.”

Two days later, the suit said, Annie and her friends were told by Miranda Morton, the school’s director for grades 6-12, that some people were offended by the fliers and handing them out was not allowed before, during or after school.

They were also told that school policy requires students to obtain prior approval, but the suit said, “there are no written guidelines … to follow when deciding which posters, fliers or notices to approve.”

The suit also pointed out that there is a “pro-life student club” for ninth- through 12-graders that “promoted pro-life issues at the academy.”

The suit quotes Nova Executive Director Brian Bloomfield as explaining in an e-mail to Zinos and his wife, Emily, that “public schools have every right to prohibit student speech.”

Bloomfield and Morton did not respond Friday to messages seeking reaction to the suit.

The suit seeks an injunction against the ban and “nominal” damages on the girl’s behalf, along with compensation for the family’s costs in bringing the matter to court.

Reached at home Friday, Nicholas Zinos referred all questions to his lawyers.

The nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, of Scottsdale, Ariz., is assisting the family. It describes itself as a “legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” Matt Sharp, legal council for the alliance, said in a statement announcing the suit. “The law on this is extremely clear: Free speech cannot be censored simply because it expresses a certain viewpoint that administrators don’t favor.”

Sharp said in an interview Friday that Annie and her friends have faced no discipline beyond having their flier distribution halted.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482