Abortion Clinic Demonstrations Allowed
Special Report - November 28, 2011
A group of pro-life advocates in Jacksonville, North Carolina, will be allowed to resume praying and picketing in front of the city’s only abortion clinic, while city attorneys modify a public ordinance that the city had previously used to prohibit them from doing so. The city’s decision to voluntarily modify the ordinance is part of an agreement reached last week between city attorneys and the Thomas More Society, a Christian legal group that is representing the pro-life citizens in a lawsuit that challenges Jacksonville’s current “Parade and Public Assembly Ordinance” as unconstitutional. On November 21, after a hearing in the case, U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits the city from using its current ordinance against the pro-life citizens, and allows the citizens to resume their peaceful demonstrations outside the abortion clinic until city attorneys can draft a new ordinance.
According to The Daily News, city spokesman, Glen Hargett said in a statement, “The city council has indicated a desire to resolve this lawsuit and to make any necessary changes to this ordinance that are necessary to come into compliance with evolving First Amendment law.”
The city of Jacksonville had previously used the ordinance to forbid a group of pro-life citizens led by Dr. Bartolo Spano from peacefully protesting and praying at the front entrance to the Crist Clinic for Women, Jacksonville’s sole abortion clinic. City police ordered the group to move their demonstration to another location a considerable distance away from the abortion clinic. In a motion filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on November 1, the Thomas More Society argued that the city of Jacksonville’s ordinance “chills the constitutionally protected speech of anyone wishing to communicate political or religious beliefs in the City's public places. It is unconstitutional on its face because it does not exempt small groups from its reach, does not afford ‘ample alternatives for communication,’ and does not contain ‘narrow, objective, and definite’ standards to guide the licensing authority.” It also contended that the ordinance “was unconstitutionally applied to” the group of pro-life citizens, with the city first requiring the protestors to obtain a permit, then later revoking that permit, citing public safety concerns. “The City’s true motive seems to have been either administrative conveniencerestricting assembly to paved sidewalks to avoid the headache of locating public rights of way on unpaved walkwaysor to placate persons complaining about Plaintiffs’ speech,” the motion stated. “Either way, the City unlawfully suppressed Plaintiffs’ speech.”
In the preliminary injunction issued last week, Judge Boyle enjoined the city of Jacksonville from enforcing its “Parade and Public Assembly Ordinance,” and from “barring plaintiffs from demonstrating on the sidewalks or public rights of way at and near the entrances to the Crist Clinic for Women for all times as this injunction remains in effect and for a period of not less than 60 days after a revised ordinance is formally adopted by the City and plaintiffs have an opportunity to apply for a permit, if one is desired, under its terms.” The court also specified that, “Any such demonstrations shall be consistent with the terms of the plaintiffs' previously issued parade permit not otherwise invalidated by this order, and in compliance with any other traffic and safety regulations that would be equally applicable to any other permitted demonstrators in the City's jurisdiction.” According to the injunction, both parties have 60 days to report back to the court with their progress in reaching an agreement about a new ordinance.
“We are pleased the city of Jacksonville has agreed to allow the demonstrators to continue their ministry during the lawsuit. This is a big victory for the First Amendment rights of pro-life people everywhere,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, in a statement. “We are hopeful for a successful resolution of this lawsuit that will protect First Amendment rights for the long term.”
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