Pro-Life Pastor Wins Fight Against Oakland on Free Speech

State   Steven Ertelt   Dec 21, 2011   |   8:45PM    Oakland, CA

The case involving Pastor Walter Hoye’s right to Free Speech was back in court last week for a determination of proper remedy after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s July ruling that Oakland’s enforcement of its “bubble zone” ordinance “is a constitutionally invalid, content-based regulation of speech.”

The hearing resulted in an order requiring Oakland to follow a policy containing no exceptions or qualifications about who is covered by the ordinance. Leading up to this order, Oakland argued that there should be an exception to the ordinance for all abortion clinic workers.

As the pro-life legal group Life Legal Defense Foundation pointed out in its briefs, the City’s argument would eviscerate any notion of evenhanded enforcement, since all speakers in the pay of the abortion clinic (from the doctor to the clinic-paid escort) would be free to present their message outside the clinic while those presenting a pro-life message would still be subject to the ordinance.

Shortly before the hearing, the City abandoned its argument, and, in fact, denied ever having made it.

The court’s order rejected the City’s argument that police officers should be instructed not to enforce the ordinance against escorts and workers at Family Planning Specialists because they would have “advance consent” to approach women. According to a new clinic policy, women would not be allowed to make an appointment, unless they first gave consent to be approached by abortion clinic personnel on the sidewalk outside the abortion clinic. The court declined to view this non-binding abortion clinic policy as a basis for creating an exception in the City’s enforcement policy.

“The City’s last—or at least latest—attempt to give favored status to pro-abortion speakers failed,” states Dana Cody, Life Legal Defense Foundation’s President and Executive Director. “LLDF will continue to watch how Oakland’s enforcement policy plays out, and will do everything in its power to see that pro-life speakers are not shut out of Oakland’s public fora.”

In July, Pastor Hoye was vindicated in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when they stated that Oakland’s “bubble zone” ordinance was constitutional, yet the City of Oakland was infringing on his freedom of speech by not making the ordinance impartial. The City has not complied with the Court’s decision, and instead has offered contradictory interpretations of the ordinance, such as stating that the law applied “to anyone who is not a doctor, nurse, or other employee of a health care facility,” then stating that the exemption was only limited to medical emergencies.