Birmingham Alabama Settles Lawsuit With Pro-Lifers Denied Free Speech

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 10, 2010   |   4:35PM   |   Birmingham, AL

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a pro-life legal group, today announced the settlement of the federal civil rights action it filed last June against the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

The suit came on behalf of a group of young pro-life activists who were denied their free speech rights and the settlement includes payment to plaintiffs for both monetary damages and their attorneys’ fees.

The suit, filed in early June, arose from an incident in February 2009, when nine members of the Survivors pro-life organization were arrested and jailed overnight for displaying pro-life signs and handing out literature on a public sidewalk outside a high school in Birmingham.

Rather than investigating the incident and admitting that the police had violated the Survivors’ rights, the city later filed misdemeanor trespass charges against them. These criminal charges were only dismissed after the federal lawsuit was filed

In the course of seeking injunctive relief against future interference with the Survivors’ right to engage in picketing and leafleting on the public sidewalk, LLDF lawyers learned that the city had a “demonstration” ordinance that required groups as small as two persons to obtain permits before engaging in various free speech activity.

“What started as a lawsuit to get fair treatment for the Survivors evolved into a broader challenge to the city’s unconstitutional permit scheme,” said Katie Short, legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation.

She continued: “We learned from local pro-lifers that this law had been a thorn in their side for years. We are pleased that this suit not only vindicated the Survivors’ rights, but also relieved the local pro-life community of the burden of this onerous law.”

Kortney Blythe, the former Director of Survivors Campus Life Tours, told at the time that she repeatedly asked Officer Cooley, one of the arresting officers, the reason for the arrests.

He kept assuring the team that they were not arrested, they were only being detained, and he did not know on what basis they would be charged. Police officials never informed the group the reason for their arrest as they were being handcuffed, and the team said one officer questioned his superiors, “What are we arresting them for again?”

The police confiscated the team’s video cameras and personal belongings, and impounded and searched their van. They also asked the location of their hotel so that could be searched as well. [related]

The Survivors were represented by LLDF attorneys Katie Short and Allison Aranda, as well as by local counsel Phillip Jauregui and Caroline Allen of Jauregui & Lindsey in Birmingham.

The case was Turn the Hearts v. City of Birmingham, No. 2:10-CV-01477-LSC.