South Dakota State Attorney Drops Charges Against Pro-Life Advocate

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 24, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Dakota State Attorney Drops Charges Against Pro-Life Advocate Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 24
, 2007

Rapid City, SD ( — A South Dakota state attorney has dropped the charges filed against a pro-life advocate who the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology accused of trespassing on campus earlier this month. A member of the pro-life group Campus Life Tours was arrested after the group tried to conduct a pro-life protest there.

On May 8, the South Dakota university prevented the group from appearing on campus.

CLT participant Joey Cox, 18, called the college administration to inform them of the group’s visit and request information on the school’s free speech policy. But when the group tried to bring the pro-life message to the school, Cox was taken into custody.

But South Dakota state attorney Sarah E. Seljeskog dismissed the charges filed against him after an attorney working with the Alliance Defense Fund represented him.

Seljeskog noted the reason for the dismissal was “in the best interest of justice.” It was filed May 16 in the Magistrate Division of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court.

“The Constitution does not require individuals to obtain permission before they exercise their First Amendment rights,” said ADF-allied attorney Stephen Wesolick, of the Wesolick Law Firm in Rapid City. “Furthermore, the school’s administration misapplied their policy when they chose to silence Mr. Cox.”

Cox had been charged with failure to vacate, a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

“Free speech is a protected right under the Constitution and does not require adherence to this type of school policy,” Wesolick said. “Mr. Cox acted entirely within his rights when he chose to engage in pro-life speech on the school’s campus.”

After the college was initially contacted, Julie Smoragiewicz, Vice President for University and Public Relations, said previous permission must be attained two weeks in advance and threatened removal of the team.

When asked for the reasoning behind that length of time Smoragiewicz stated: "It’s been a long-standing policy… it’s just something that we’ve done in terms of making it convenient."

But CLT team member Brandon Davis says most colleges and universities are open to having a forum for public debate and discussion about important issues like abortion.

"For the past month, we have been on the road for over a thousand miles stopping at dozens of colleges to peacefully share information in a public forum, giving only a couple hours notice," he told in a statement. "This ‘long-standing policy’ spits in the face of our founding fathers and is a blatant violation of our constitutional right to free speech."

Davis said the group obtained a copy of the policy and found out that it applies only to solicitation on campus and makes no mention of free speech activities without selling something.

Upon the CLT team’s arrival to the school, a blockade of administrators, police officers, and a squad car lined the sidewalk to bar entrance to the campus, the group indicated.

Kortney Blythe, director of the tours for CLT, described what happened.

"No sooner had we pulled into visitor parking on campus, when a squad of administration and police swarmed our van demanding for us to leave," she said. "I tried negotiating with them, but obviously this college has a problem with peaceful First Amendment activity."

College administrators refused to discuss the situation with Blythe, and ignored warnings regarding the illegality of their actions. She attempted to reason with both the administrators and police officers.

"The Constitution was thrown out the window and replaced with campus regulations that didn’t even apply," she said.