Fifth Circuit Hears Oral Arguments On Pro-Life Speech

Seeking injunction to protect sidewalk counselors from harassment

This afternoon, Life Legal’s lead attorney, Katie Short, appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the Chief of Police and other officers of the City of Jackson, Mississippi to protect the First Amendment rights of pro-life speakers.

The case involves members of Pro-Life Mississippi (PLM), who have had a presence on the public sidewalk of the state’s last abortion clinic for years. During much of that time, they have been harassed, intimidated, threatened, and even arrested by law enforcement officers. In December 2013, the police arrested Harriet Ashley, who was 80 years old at the time, shackling her and taking her downtown for booking. That’s when Life Legal said enough is enough and filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking justice for those wrongfully arrested and first amendment protection for those peacefully praying on the sidewalk outside Mississippi’s last abortion clinic.

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In 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi entered a consent decree against the City of Jackson and its Chief of Police because of the Police Department’s pervasive policy of violating the pro-lifers’ free speech rights. The Court went so far as to order the City and the police department to attend training on the First Amendment and to learn how to protect the free speech rights of citizens. However, the discriminatory and unconstitutional enforcement of the law has not stopped.

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Jackson law enforcement officers continue to impose arbitrary and bizarre rules on the sidewalk counselors, including a “no touch” rule that prohibits the group from resting their signs on the ground at any time, even for a moment, and a “no standing” rule that requires them to continually move about when they are near the gate of the abortion clinic. Members of the group have been arrested for violating these so-called rules, even though they are not codified in any state or local statutes. At the same time, the Jackson Police Department enforced no such regulations against pro-abortion protesters on the same sidewalk.

“The City is on a mission and, as evidenced by the 2008 consent decree, has been for many years. Their mission is to discourage First Amendment activity,” said Life Legal attorney Katie Short. “The City’s strategy has been to force pro-life speakers into a game of ‘Mother, May I?’ with the police and then drag the losers into court on frivolous charges. That game needs to end.”

The injunction would allow pro-life speakers to continue their lawful and peaceful presence on the sidewalk without the threat of unwarranted and unconstitutional police action directed against them.

Author: Life Legal

The Life Legal Defense Foundation is a non-profit law firm that specializes in the defense of vulnerable human life, especially life in the womb.