Mississippi Federal Judge Disregards Decades of Supreme Court Precedent Declaring Public Sidewalks Off Limits for Free Speech

JACKSON, Miss., Oct. 4, 2016 — In a shocking and unprecedented ruling in Life Legal’s Garza v. Jackson Public School District case, Judge Henry Wingate obliterated one of our most fundamental rights—the right to engage in free speech activities on the public sidewalk.

The Supreme Court has reiterated time and time again that students do not abandon their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse doorsteps. Similarly, they do not lose the privilege to engage in free speech activity on the public sidewalk after school. Even one of the most liberal appellate districts in the country, the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, has recognized the long-standing right to engage in free speech on the streets and sidewalks adjacent to public schools.

Kristina Garza and Brianna Baxter, along with other members of the Survivors Campus Outreach team went out to the public sidewalk outside of Murrah High School in 2012 to educate the students about abortion and share with them about life-saving alternatives. Survivors is a national Christian pro-life youth organization dedicated to educating high school and college-age students about the truth of abortion. The team peacefully held signs, handed out literature, and spoke with students on the public sidewalk. They did not block the sidewalk or prevent anyone from getting to their bus.

“What is appalling is the court’s suggestion that Ms. Garza’s and Ms. Baxter’s mere presence on the sidewalk interfered with ingress and egress to the school buses that were adjacent to the public sidewalk,” states Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Snyder. “This erratic and unfounded ruling invites other courts to restrict our free speech rights even further in other public areas.”

If students are not permitted to disseminate the student paper or flyers about matters of public concern on the public sidewalk outside their schools where students gather, who or what is to stop a court from prohibiting any person from engaging in the same conduct on the public sidewalk near a bus stop or metro station.

If we have learned anything during the last four decades of legalized abortion, it is that awareness and truth changes the heart and mind. We must continue to speak up for the voiceless and that means we must continue to fight for the right to speak the truth freely.

Life Legal is coordinating with local attorneys from Bell & Associates, P.A. in this matter.

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