Pennsylvania Pro-Life Advocates Win Free Speech Decision in Federal Court
by Steven Ertelt
April 28, 2009
Philadelphia, PA (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court has handed a victory to pro-life advocates in Pennsylvania who were denied their First Amendment free speech rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed a federal judges decision against two pro-life advocates Monday.
The appeals court said two pro-life advocates should be able to have their cases considered by a jury.
The case involves Edward Snell and John McTernan, who were arrested and threatened with arrest, respectively, for exercising their First Amendment rights in a public alley next to a Planned Parenthood abortion center.
In November 2004, Snell was arrested in a public alley when he peacefully attempted to hand out literature and speak with people walking to a Planned Parenthood abortion business from its parking lot.
McTernan was threatened by a police officer with arrest in September 2005 if he continued to use the same alley, where he simply wished to hold a pro-life sign.
In October 2007, a federal judge threw out lawsuits filed by the men against three York City police officers. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III on Tuesday granted a motion requesting a summary judgment in favor of the officers.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed Judge Jones’ decision against two pro-life advocates.
Randall Wenger is the lead counsel in the case and the chief counsel of the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg. He litigated the case along with attorney Dennis Boyle who works closely with the Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life legal group.
Wenger told LifeNews.com that pro-life advocates "shouldn’t be arrested or threatened with arrest for expressing their beliefs on public property."
We are pleased that the court has decided to take into full consideration the free speech claims of these law-abiding pro-life counselors, he said. We are also confident that the court will recognize that the counselors should not be unlawfully prevented from exercising their First Amendment rights–even if Planned Parenthood doesn’t like their pro-life message.
In the incident, Snell maintained another officer handcuffed him too tightly, according to court records.
Snell was later found not guilty by District Judge Ronald Haskell Jr., but Haskell noted Snell was "right at the line" of disorderly conduct and didn’t fault the officer for the arrest.
Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org
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