David Benham and Christians Tell City: Let Us Pray Outside Abortion Clinic or Face a Lawsuit

State   |   Steven Ertelt, Micaiah Bilger   |   Apr 9, 2020   |   1:57PM   |   Charlotte, North Carolina

David Benham and the eight Christians who were arrested for praying outside a local abortion clinic and helping mothers in need are not taking the abrogation of their Constitutional rights lying down. Their attorneys drafted a letter to the city of Charlotte, North Carolina today telling the city to stand down and let them pray and counsel outside the abortion center or face a potential lawsuit.

As LifeNew reported, Benham was arrested Saturday while praying outside an abortion facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department confirmed that they arrested eight people outside the abortion facility for allegedly violating a stay-at-home order during the coronavirus outbreak.

The arrest made national news and now Benham is fighting back for his legal rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Wednesday to the city of Charlotte on behalf of Benham and other Christian pro-life area citizens whom police arrested Saturday for engaging in peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling outside an abortion facility. As the letter explains, the arrests should not have occurred because Benham, president of the non-profit charity Cities4Life, and the other pro-life volunteers, members of the Christian ministry Love Life, complied with all applicable emergency orders and proclamations related to the coronavirus crisis, as a ranking Charlotte police officer confirmed when both non-profits were outside of the abortion facility a few days earlier.

“This wasn’t about public health and safety; it was about the city silencing people because it doesn’t like their point of view,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life in a statement to LifeNews.

“We support the efforts of public officials to prioritize health and safety, but if other groups are free to assemble, people of faith should be, too. And if abortion clinics can stay open during the coronavirus crisis, Christians should be allowed to pray and offer counseling outside—particularly those abiding by health and safety guidelines, as Mr. Benham and the others were.”

Police documents said they were in violation of the order and proclamation because 10 or more of them had assembled, but, as the ADF letter explains, none of the emergency orders and proclamations place that restriction on non-profit charitable social service organizations, which is what Cities4Life and Love Life are, or on any citizens who are merely walking on public sidewalks.

“My desire is simply to do what I am legally permitted to do under the emergency orders that are in place, and that’s what I and the others have taken great care to do,” said Benham. “It makes no sense that someone can walk or ride a bike down a sidewalk, but a person can’t walk and pray there. It makes no sense that an abortion business can stay open to offer purely elective abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic but social service charity volunteers can’t pray and offer material support outside while obeying the emergency order and proclamation.”

“It is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid unnecessary litigation in federal court,” Theriot wrote in the ADF letter regarding North Carolina v. Benham. “Please instruct any City of Charlotte officers or employees to drop all criminal charges pending against my clients and discontinue their interference with their right to engage in assembly, prayer, counseling, and other expressive activities on public property…. Please understand that I will advise Mr. Benham, Cities4Life, and Love Life of their right to take immediate legal action against the City of Charlotte if their First Amendment rights are not immediately restored.”

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Benham’s is not the first arrest in recent days. While abortion facilities in most states are allowed to remain open during the pandemic to abort unborn babies in elective procedures, pro-life advocates are being persecuted for standing outside trying to save them.

Benham runs a pro-life charity called Cities for Life that has helped more than 5,000 mothers choose life for their unborn babies, according to the report. On Saturday, he said he and four other sidewalk counselors were standing outside the Charlotte abortion facility to pray and offer help to the mothers going inside.

“My boys and I went to support the awesome sidewalk counselors who work with our non-profit, Cities for Life,” he wrote on Twitter. “We offer life-affirming services for at-risk mothers. It’s been an absolute privilege serving over 5,000 vulnerable mothers who felt abortion was their only choice!”

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He said they took precautions to keep themselves and others healthy, including staying at least 6-feet apart and limiting their group to less than 10 people.

“We were not belligerent… We simply stood our ground. MLK once said, ‘A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right,’” Benham said.

He posted a video of his arrest on Twitter. The video shows him explaining to police why they were there and how they were within their rights to do so. However, Benham said police still arrested him.

“The sidewalk counselors stayed over 6’ apart and there were less than five of them. Yet this officer selectively enforced the law, even though Cities4Life had less than 10 people,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cities4Life provides counseling to expectant mothers near abortion clinics in a peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent way, and also provides social services to expectant mothers including diapers, baby furniture, bottles, baby clothes, maternity clothes, groceries, and money for rent, utilities, vehicles, vehicular repair, gas, prenatal care, and follow-up ultrasounds. Love Life engages in similar types of activities.

On Saturday, Benham and members of Love Life walked on public sidewalks near A Preferred Women’s Health Center to pray and offer counseling and services to anyone desiring it. Mindful of both the North Carolina governor’s emergency order and the similar joint proclamation issued by the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Benham and the others ensured that, at all times, they were spaced at least six feet apart from any person, and that they were equipped with hand sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the order and proclamation. Their activities are also allowed under several other provisions of the proclamation. Nevertheless, Benham was cited and arrested, and so were others.

According to police, they issued 12 citations and arrested eight people who refused to leave. Police said those people were charged with violating emergency prohibitions/restrictions.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a pro-life Republican from Texas, came to Benham’s defense and slammed his arrest as unconstitutional. Cruz said the pro-lifers were exercising their “core First Amendment rights” and were doing so peacefully and safely.

“Because elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors,” Cruz wrote on Twitter.

John Snyder, a North Carolina attorney and legal analyst, told Spectrum News that he also believes the arrests were unconstitutional.

According to the report:

“Constitutionally, they have a right to be out there, expressing their views and assisting in the way they believe they are. They have that First Amendment protection,” Snyder said.

Even if the group had more than 10 people gathering, Snyder says they have the constitutional right to assemble. However, he said groups must take health risks into consideration.

“There is no question the health benefits of what is being required of people but the Constitution has not been suspended.” Snyder said.

Benham and his brother, Jason, are the identical twin brothers who were set to host a house-flipping reality show called Flip It Forward on HGTV several years ago. However, the channel canceled the show after activists protested the brothers’ Christian views on family.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors also were arrested in San Francisco, California and Greensboro, North Carolina within the past two weeks for allegedly violating stay-at-home orders.

Most states now have stay-at-home orders as well as temporary restrictions on non-essential medical procedures to conserve medical supplies and stop further spread of the coronavirus. However, pro-abortion Democrat leaders in several states are showing favoritism to the abortion industry, allowing abortion facilities to remain open to abort unborn babies in elective abortions.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors have said they will continue to stand outside abortion facilities to pray and offer support as long as unborn babies are being aborted.