A California man has filed suit in U.S. district court in Detroit after police from Royal Oak, Mich., confiscated his motor home because it allegedly bore “obscene” pro-life messages.
Officials with the Thomas More Law Center say they filed the suit on behalf of Ronald Brock, who claims police in the southeastern Michigan city illegally took possession of his motor home during an automotive rally last year “in an investigation of obscenity” because it bore “aborted baby photographs.”
The law center, in a statement, said the vehicle “displayed messages and photographs informing the public about [Brock’s] political and religious views against abortion.”
The incident took place in August 2001 during an event known as the Woodward Dream Cruise Weekend, which is held annually to celebrate “memories of ‘cruising’ during the 1950s and 1960s,” said the law center.
According to information posted on the Dream Cruise website, the event is “a mid-summer classic that celebrates the cars, music and memories of cruisin’ in the ’50s and ’60s in the place that put America on wheels.” It attracts 1.5 million visitors and some 30,000 cars.
Lawyers for Brock, who filed suit Aug. 13, charge that while police confiscated his motor home, they ignored “the customized vehicles displaying spray-painted murals of naked women and men displaying ‘Show Us Your [breasts]’ signs to women. …”
“Despite finding no evidence of a crime, the police towed away Mr. Brock’s motor home, leaving him stranded on the streets of Royal Oak with a few personal belongings in a duffel bag,” said the center.
The law center said in an effort to “cover their activities,” police sought search warrants from the city’s attorney and the county prosecutor’s office, but both were denied.
The center also said Brock was prohibited from audio- and videotaping the seizure of his motor home.
“The Royal Oak police department wrongly silenced Mr. Brock’s speech during last year’s Woodward Dream Cruise weekend,” said Ed White, the center’s associate counsel.
He added the center was filing suit to “ensure that this year he will be able to express his messages on the public streets to the same extent that other citizens are permitted to express their own messages.”
Christopher Johnson, the city’s attorney, was out of his office and could not be reached for comment.
Brock returned to this year’s event, which was held last weekend, after the law center won a temporary restraining order against the city earlier in the week.
Brian Burch, a spokesman for the center, said Brock’s motor home was again adorned with pro-life materials, but he was not hassled by cops. He did, however, suffer some minor damage; a few Cruise attendees peppered his vehicle with eggs.
However, Burch said, another participant, whose vehicle – a small bus – was also adorned with similar pro-life materials, was not so lucky.
“People were jumping on his bus and ripped off the signs, then assaulted him,” he said. It was unclear whether police arrested anyone in connection with the attack.
Burch said he wasn’t sure “of the status of [Brock’s] suit” at this point. “It’s probably just seeking legal fees and perhaps an admission of wrongdoing.”
A license to speak?
In separate action, the American Center for Law and Justice filed a federal civil-rights suit against the city of St. Paul, Minn., on behalf of two women.
In a statement, ACLJ officials said the two women were told by police to “leave a public sidewalk outside an abortion clinic because they did not have a permit required by a city ordinance” to protest there.
“This is an unconstitutional attempt to punish our clients who wanted to legally share a pro-life message on a public sidewalk,” said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel at ACLJ. “The First Amendment does not allow state and local governments to require that persons obtain a license to speak in public.”
Chapter 366A.01(a) of the city code states: “No person or organization shall use any public street, sidewalk or alley for a march, demonstration or public gathering in the city without a permit.”
The suit was filed in U.S. district court in St. Paul, ACLJ officials said, on behalf of Bonnie Holliday and Sally Kolb. The suit names the city of St. Paul, the police department and Chief of Police William K. Finney.
“There is no conceivable governmental interest which justifies such sweeping restrictions on speech,” Manion said. “Just this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a permit-regulation scheme in Ohio.”
In that case, justices ruled that Stratten, Ohio – a small community of 297 in the eastern part of the state – could not force door-to-door canvassers, proselytizers or salesmen to obtain permits before hawking goods or beliefs.
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