A group of North Carolina Christians filed a lawsuit against Greensboro authorities today after they were arrested for praying outside a local abortion clinic.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit Tuesday against the city of Greensboro and Guilford County on behalf of pro-life North Carolina citizens whom police arrested for engaging in peaceful prayer outside an abortion facility. As ADF explained in a letter sent to the city on April 2, the arrests should not have occurred because the pro-life members of the Christian ministry Love Life were in compliance with a Guilford County emergency proclamation related to the coronavirus crisis.
The city is standing by its arrests of the Love Life members because they traveled by car and not by foot and because they traveled from outside the county—prohibitions found nowhere in the proclamation or in any law. The city also claimed that the proclamation gives the city authority to prohibit all First Amendment activity, which is also untrue. Love Life members intentionally and carefully engaged in their activities to comply with the proclamation.
“The government can’t allow some people to walk and talk on sidewalks and then say that these pro-life citizens can’t walk and pray there. This was never about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like what they have to say,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “While we support the efforts of authorities to prioritize the public’s health and safety, people of faith can’t be singled out as the city has done here. If abortion businesses can stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians who abide by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside.”
On March 28 and 30, Love Life President Justin Reeder and a few other representatives of the organization walked near A Woman’s Choice abortion facility to pray both on public property and on adjacent private property where Love Life regularly prays with the property owners’ permission. Mindful of the Guilford County proclamation, Love Life ensured that, at all times, fewer than 10 individuals were present in its group, that they were spaced at least six feet apart, and that they were equipped with sanitizer, as required by the social distancing provisions of the proclamation. Their activities are also allowed under several other provisions of the proclamation.
On Friday, Guilford County amended its proclamation in the wake of the ADF letter in an apparent attempt to target free speech by adding, “Outdoor activity means outside exercise and/or recreational activity. It does not include outside activity for other purposes.”
Nevertheless, the Love Life representatives were issued citations and arrested. Greensboro police officers told them they were in violation of the proclamation, specifically “travel for a non-essential function.” The city attorney doubled-down on that erroneous interpretation, telling ADF that Love Life can “prey [sic] and speak at home,” even though no travel restriction exists for organizations like Love Life that provide free social services to those in need.
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“As our lawsuit explains, the emergency proclamation, the Constitution, and court precedent do not support these interpretations. They all support the free speech activities of Love Life,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life. “The legal rule that the government must follow is that it must have a truly compelling interest in order to violate citizens’ First Amendment rights, and it must do so in the least restrictive means possible. But when the same government is allowing some people to walk, bike, golf, and picnic while threatening others with 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for praying on a sidewalk, they have not even come close to meeting that burden.”
Though abortions are not essential or life-saving, many states are allowing abortion facilities to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, non-essential medical procedures, travel, religious services and other activities are being restricted.
Love Life leaders said they respect the police and local authorities, and they have been trying to abide by the restrictions to keep people safe. However, they said they cannot give up their ministry as long as unborn babies’ lives are at stake.
“At least 20 children were brought to that abortion center to be murdered [Saturday],” the pro-life organization said in a statement. “If children are continuing to be murdered in these abortion centers, the Church must be present.”
Love Life encourages prayer and peaceful, respectful outreach to people outside abortion facilities. It centers its mission around the principle of “loving our neighbor” by offering resources and hope to mothers, fathers and their babies.
According to Love Life, pro-life sidewalk counselors helped save at least six unborn babies from abortion Saturday in New York City and Charlotte.
“Until the doors of abortion centers are closed, we are encouraging and challenging The Church and all Christians across this nation to start prayer walking individually at their local abortion centers where innocent lives are being taken,” the organization said. “Let’s be diligent to practice social distancing while we prayer walk. ”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Global Impact Ministries v. City of Greensboro, with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Scott Gaylord, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case on behalf of Love Life, which is the name under which Global Impact Ministries operates.