JACKSON, Miss., Oct. 12, 2016 — In a unexpected turn of events last week, the City of Jackson settled all claims brought by Pro-Life Mississippi and other pro-life advocates. A lawsuit brought by Life Legal Defense Foundation in 2014 alleged that the City repeatedly and persistently violated the constitutional rights of peaceful sidewalk counselors outside Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. The City has agreed that the paved sidewalk and the grassy area adjacent to the clinic are public right of way and are open to free speech activity. Among other specific directives, the City will allow the Plaintiffs to rest their signs on the public sidewalk and sit in chairs while exercising their free speech rights, so long as they leave room for passersby.
“We are pleased that the City has finally agreed to follow well-established legal precedent in this area of First Amendment rights,” said Allison K. Aranda, Senior Staff Counsel with the Life Legal Defense Foundation. Ms. Aranda continued, “Our clients have been repeatedly harassed and unlawfully arrested for years by the Jackson Police Department and it was time for the City to own up to its illegality.” The Jackson Police Department’s conduct towards Pro-Life Mississippi has been so egregious that the City agreed to a mandatory training program to educate officers about First Amendment rights.
Additionally, the City agreed to pay monetary damages to the Plaintiffs and to dismiss all criminal charges against the Plaintiffs and other pro-life advocates. All court fines, fees, and bonds paid since 2011 will be returned.
There are few rights more sacred than the right to speak freely in the public arena about matters of grave public importance. Life Legal is committed to fighting to protect that right so that brave pro-life advocates are able to share their life-saving message of love and hope with the hopeless. This is not only a legal victory, but a victory for the lives of the many babies who will be spared because their mothers heard this message of hope.