By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
April 17, 2020
Attorneys specializing in religious liberty cases are keeping busy in North Carolina. The Chicago-based Thomas More Society has filed suit against Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn and a police officer in her city. And Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Love Life in a suit against Greensboro and Guilford County and threatening to sue Charlotte on behalf of Cities for Life.
All of the cases involve municipal officials using COVID-19 social-distancing proclamations or stay-at-home ordinances to silence and disperse prayer walkers from areas surrounding abortion clinics.
“The government can’t allow some people to walk and talk on sidewalks and then say that these pro-life citizens can’t walk and pray there,” attorney Denise Harle said in an Alliance Defending Freedom news release. “This was never about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like what they have to say.”
Harle was describing two late-March incidents near A Woman’s Choice abortion clinic in Greensboro.
According to an April 2 letter she wrote the Greensboro City attorney, “On Saturday March 28 and again on Monday, March 30, Love Life’s President, Justin Reeder, along with a few other representatives of Love Life met outside a Woman’s Choice in order to pray both on public property and on adjacent private property where Love Life regularly gathers with the property owners’ permission. Mindful of the Guilford County Emergency Proclamation dated March 27, 2020, Love Life ensured that, at all times, fewer than 10 individuals were present in its group, that each person was spaced at least 6 feet from any other person, and that they were equipped with sanitizer, as required by the Social Distancing provisions of the Emergency Proclamation.”
Despite their adherence to the rules, despite the fact that Love Life is a nonprofit providing social support services and thereby an “essential business,” and despite the fact that the rules allow for “outdoor activity” such as walking, Reeder and three others were arrested on that Saturday for “travel for a non-essential function.” Two of the men were similarly arrested again on the following Monday.
When efforts to help the City realize its mistake in violating the men’s constitutional rights failed, ADF filed suit.
“While we support the efforts of authorities to prioritize the public’s health and safety, people of faith can’t be singled out as the city has done here. If abortion businesses can stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians who abide by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside,” Harle said.
She pointed out that the reasons the men were given for their arrests — that they had traveled to Greensboro by car and not by foot and because they traveled from outside the county for a non-essential function — are not prohibited by the proclamation. She also said Greensboro officials’ claim that the proclamation gives the city authority to prohibit all First Amendment activity, is simply untrue.
Similar to its April 2 letter, the ADF wrote the City of Charlotte on April 9, asking that officers stop arresting pro-life citizens engaging in peaceful prayer and sidewalk counseling near an abortion facility.
David Benham, one of the well-known Charlotte brothers whose HGTV home-flipping show was canceled because of their traditional beliefs on marriage, was arrested April 4.
Benham was representing Cities for Life, which he said had fewer than 10 people there, all of whom were practicing social distancing. He called the arrest “selective enforcement of the law.”
“You are coming after us because we’re standing in front of an abortion clinic … I am not going to let the government have unlimited power and use this crisis to their advantage,” he told the media.
Even before ADF began taking action on behalf of Benham and Reeder, the Thomas More Society filed a civil rights complaint against Greensboro’s Mayor Vaughn and Lt. Dan Knott on behalf of four abortion prayer walkers from Mocksville, who were confronted by officers on March 28 and ordered to leave the sidewalk near A Woman’s Choice.
That suit, filed April 2, says Greensboro’s Stay Home Order, as enforced, violates both the first and 14th amendments of the Constitution. It says the prayer walkers were threatened with arrest on March 28 when they began walking near the clinic in their Love Life T-shirts.
The complaint asks for a restraining order against the mayor and police so that prayer walkers can continue their “constitutionally protected speech and expressive activities outside A Woman’s Choice of Greensboro.”
“What we are witnessing – the infringement of rights of anti-abortion protestors – is a testament to a fundamental argument against abortion itself. That principal says if the right to life is not safe, no other right is safe,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It’s easy to erroneously dismiss and judge these protestors as loonies, fanatics, and worthy of being arrested. To look at it that way is to fail to see the bigger picture. Abortion dynamites the foundation of everybody’s rights, whether you believe in rights for women, the elderly, the disabled, or minorities. If the government won’t vigorously protect our right to live, born or unborn, then don’t be surprised when it decides to take you to jail on some misguided, manipulated, malicious breach of your God-given and constitutional rights?”