Pro-Life Law Firm Wants Supreme Court to Take Abortion Protest Case

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 9, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Law Firm Wants Supreme Court to Take Abortion Protest Case

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 9, 2004

Washington, DC ( — A pro-life law firm on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case involving pro-life protesters who it says had their free speech rights violated. They were arrested by Kansas City officials for expressing their views on public property.

The American Center for Law and Justice is asking the nation’s high court to overturn an appeals court decision that determined the city acted properly in abridging the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators.

In July 2001, police arrested pro-life protesters who were peacefully assembled on public property at a Kansas City intersection.

The protesters held large graphic signs of aborted babies that police objected to, calling them "offensive."

Police asked the protesters to move away from the intersection, saying they were causing a traffic hazard. When the demonstrators refused, they were arrested.

The ACLJ persuaded a court to drop the loitering charges against the demonstrators and in March 2002 filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Kansas City police department for their actions.

"This is an important case involving the constitutional rights of those who oppose abortion to be able to speak out freely without being punished for their views," said Francis J. Manion, the ACLJ’s senior counsel.

The pro-life legal firm argues the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit erred in its July 2004 decision upholding a district court decision that concluded that Kansas City authorities acted properly.

"The police officers narrowly tailored the restrictions to serve a significant governmental interest and left open alternative channels of communicating their message," the appeals court said.

The three judge panel ruled against the protesters in a 2-1 decision.

"The Constitution does not permit public officials unfettered discretion to decide which messages are ‘too offensive’ and then take action to remove the message simply based on the content of the message," Manion said.

Manion indicated his group agreed with the dissent by appeals court Judge C. Arlen Beam.

Judge Beam wrote that the appeals court decision created a "heckler’s veto" to the normally unlimited free speech rights Americans enjoy. That veto would allow the government or other citizens to prohibit free speech based on their objection to the content of it.

Both Beam and the ACLJ say that would create a dangerous precedent for other citizens or groups exercising their First Amendment rights.

The ACLJ also cited a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which held that "the display of large pro-life signs was ‘core political speech and expressive activity’ and ‘classic political expression."

Related web sites:
American Center for Law and Justice –
Petition to the Supreme Court in the case – petition.pdf