Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Madison on behalf of Vigil for Life, Madison (a Pro-Life Wisconsin Affiliate) and ten other free-speakers who engage in a variety of leafleting, education and sign display activities on campus and around Madison.
The suit seeks an emergency injunction against the new law, sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin and passed unanimously by the City Council on Tuesday night, saying it creates hundreds of 320-foot wide “speech-scrubbing bubbles” throughout Madison including on State Street, Capital Square, campus and outside the City/County Building. In each bubble the law bans approaching within eight feet of persons to leaflet or educate.
“All citizens have the freedom to leaflet on public sidewalks, including pro-life advocates,” said Gwen Finnegan, director of Vigil for Life, Madison. “No City can create a gag rule banning leafleting on miles of public sidewalks in places like campus, State Street and Capital Square, just to drive its brazen pro-abortion agenda against peaceful people who offer women compassionate choices outside of abortion facilities.”
The City’s “Buffer Zone” ordinance creates bubble areas 320-feet wide in diameter around every entrance of every building in Madison that happens to have a physician’s office, clinic or hospital inside. In each bubble no person may “approach” within eight feet of another person to leaflet, educate, display a sign, protest or counsel passersby. The lawsuit alleges that offices used by physicians create bubbles around hundreds of locations, including the Student Government’s office building on University and East Campus Mall, on State Street, on Capital Square, and on sidewalks outside UW campus’ Medical Sciences buildings and the Wisconsin Primate Research Center.
The suit seeks injunctive relief for all free speakers. Named plaintiffs include student organizations Students for Life of Madison and Badger Catholic who engage in speech around campus; high school teachers from St. Ambrose Academy who distribute “pro-life cupcakes” on State Street; Fr. Richard Heilman’s Rosary Rally at Capital Square and State Street; Ms. Sarah Quinones who engages in campaign and pro-raw-milk leaflet distribution; Mr. Ryan Woodhouse who speaks religious messages downtown and outside public events; and Vigil for Life and three of its participants outside the East Side’s Planned Parenthood.
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Senior Legal Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom and attorney for the plaintiffs, Matt Bowman, says the law is massively overbroad under the First Amendment. “The right to leaflet on the public sidewalk is the crown jewel of the freedom of speech, but the City washed that right away with its gag-rule ordinance that creates hundreds of bubble zones banning leafleting around Madison.”