Survivors on Trial: Literally and Figuratively

In the last issue of Lifeline, we introduced you to Allison Aranda, LLDF’s new staff attorney. This is just one example of what your support is doing to save lives on college campuses, thanks to Ms. Aranda’s fine work. Read what her clients have to say as well as her account of the trial in People v. Lord.

It’s a new semester for Campus Life Tours and next Tuesday, September 9th [2008] will be the first day of visiting schools for a new team of young people. No one knows what this semester holds, but most likely there will be schools with unconstitutional policies who will try to silence the message of life. One such incident took place in February of 2007 in the quiet community of Sonora, California where three Campus Life team members were arrested at Columbia College. Allison Aranda, the Life Legal attorney representing those of us arrested, did a tremendous job in our defense and the case was finally resolved last month, eighteen months after the arrest.

The following is a report from Allison on the trial:

When I was first asked to take on this case, I was more than eager to defend the good work of the Survivors. The campus life team is made up of passionate activists who sacrifice their time and set personal ambitions aside to speak the truth about the horror of abortion. The group is so professional and courteous that I wondered what on earth they could be accused of doing wrong. When I learned that the group was charged with causing a physical disruption on the campus of Columbia College, I was shocked. When I watched the video of the event, I was even more shocked! During the nearly two hour event, not more than a dozen students even interacted with the group at all.

The video showed the Survivors quietly standing along a 15-foot sidewalk, peacefully handing out literature to the few students who actually passed by.

Nobody was yelling and nobody was blocking the sidewalk; in fact, the group looked a little bored at times. I thought there must have been a mistake.

After speaking with the Tuolumne County District Attorney and reviewing the police reports, I soon learned exactly why this case was going forward. Columbia College had a free speech policy that required groups to apply for a permit at least 15 business days before their desired event. Since the Survivors know that a 15-day waiting period to exercise your free speech rights is unconstitutional, they refused to comply with the policy. The school decided to have the group arrested for trespassing and removed from the campus.

Well, when the D.A. got the police report he immediately recognized that failure to comply with the school policy just simply wasn’t a crime. The college needed something more to make the charges stick. So, in February 2008, nearly a year after the arrest, the school came up with a new strategy. They claimed that the group was “disrupting the campus.” Unfortunately, they did not know that the word “disrupt” has a special legal meaning and nothing that the Survivors were doing on campus remotely comes close to constituting a “legal disruption.”

The D.A. admitted that his case was weak, but because of the highly political nature of the case, it was better for his office to take the case to trial and let twelve members of the community “judge” the Survivors. After a year and a half, the Survivors got their day in court.

After listening to two solid days of lies, speculation, hearsay by the prosecution’s witnesses—all of whom were coached from the audience by the Columbia College civil attorney, the Survivors took the stand and they told the truth. Their testimony was corroborated by three members of the local community who endeared themselves to the jury.

The nail in the coffin so to speak was the video itself. Without physical proof of what transpired that day, the jury would be left to decide a case of he said/she said.

Under those circumstances, it is rare that a jury believes the person(s) accused of committing the crime. Situations like this underscore the need and the vital importance of videotaping and tape recording events while the campus life team is on tour.

So, seven days after we began selecting the twelve-member jury, they returned a unanimously just verdict—NOT GUILTY! I am constantly amazed how God uses these trials, literal and spiritual, not only to shape our character but to bring honor and glory to Him. It hit me, right smack in the middle of closing argument—the Survivors is no ordinary group of young people. These are courageous men and women who are threatened by school administrators, falsely arrested by police officers, and sometimes even physically attacked simply because passersby disagree with the message they share. And yet, they refuse to be bullied, coerced, or silenced from speaking the truth. They recognize the inherent risk, but are not dissuaded or discouraged and they never give up. They are willing to lay down their reputations, their freedom, their lives for the sake of speaking the truth and standing up for the voiceless in our society.

I am honored to stand up for them and defend them in a court of law anytime and anywhere. God was honored by their courage and protected them throughout this entire ordeal. In fact, He placed a special person on the jury who championed the truth in the deliberation room and hopes to work with the Survivors in the future. Although we are never certain how these matters will turn out in the end, we are guaranteed one thing—God will see us through and work all things to His glory. That, my friends, is exactly what He did here!

A juror commented after the trial: “I truly believe in what you and your group are doing. While serving as a juror on this trial, I have learned more about freedoms then I ever knew. Your cause is something that I would really like to become a part of. Up in the Sonora area we don’t really have anything to put the word out there on abortion and we need it. If you ever feel like coming back this way, I would like to help in any way I can.

I am a pretty good sign holder. In my heart I knew what was right. God Bless You and your team and all the Survivors.”