An agreement has been reached with the city of Jacksonville, N.C., that will allow a team of pro-life protesters represented by the Thomas More Society to resume praying and witnessing at the entrance to an abortion clinic.
WND reported Nov. 5 that lawyers from the organization sought an emergency injunction from the federal courts after police moved the protesters to a location far from the front of the clinic.
But officials say an agreement now has been reached with the city that will allow Dr. Bartolo Spano and several other local residents to resume their presence near the front entrance of the Crist Clinic.
From there, they pray and offer counseling to women seeking abortions.
“Today, attorneys for the city of Jacksonville, North Carolina, and the Thomas More Society agreed to the entry of a preliminary injunction that will allow prayer and demonstration to resume at the entrance to the city’s lone abortion clinic,” the organization announced.
“The agreement, which will be in effect until the city amends its ordinances, was reached on the eve of a hearing on the matter before U.S. District Judge Terance W. Boyle.”
The society said city attorneys have agreed to work together to resolve the disagreement.
Peter Breen, attorney for the Thomas More Society, told WND in an interview, “I’m glad to see the city has taken a pro-First Amendment posture. This is a big victory for the First Amendment rights of pro-life people everywhere.”
He said, “We are hopeful for a successful resolution of this lawsuit that will protect First Amendment rights for the long term.”.
Breen had told WND earlier he went to court because “an ordinance in Jacksonville, N.C., requiring a permit to stand on public property while witnessing to women defies the First Amendment guarantees of free speech.”
The need for legal action arose when police ordered Spano’s group to move from what had already been an approved spot in front of the Crist Clinic.
The group’s members, who had been issued a permit to stand on the public sidewalk, were ordered to move around the corner and down the street, effectively silencing their pro-life message from reaching its intended audience.
The police department, in revoking the groups permit, cited a municipal code that broadly defines a “public assembly” as “any gathering of more than two persons for a common purpose as a result of prior planning that … occupies any public area in a place open to the general public.”
Breen said that wouldn’t pass constitutional muster.
And Police Chief Michael Yaniero previously told the Charlotte Observer that there was a “safety” issue involved.
But Breen said the city code speaks not of “public safety” but whether “the existence of the demonstration is reasonably likely to cause injury or damage.”
“Furthermore, the Jacksonville ordinance allows the police chief excessive discretion regarding permit applications, and unlimited expression regarding relocation of permit holders,” he told WND.
The city issued a statement, saying, “The city council has indicated a desire to resolve this lawsuit and to make any necessary changes to this ordinance that are necessary to come into compliance with evolving First Amendment law.”
“We’ll make changes to our ordinance that are consistent with the fair-minded goals we’ve always had for any citizen or visitor who wishes to peacefully make their point in Jacksonville,” City Attorney John Carter said. “We welcome speakers, and views, in an environment that is respectful and safe for everyone.”
The center said the judge had indicated he would enter on order “that affirms the rights of protesters to gather peacefully near the clinic.”
The order also will preserve the key features of the city ordinance allowing the city to plan for protests and assemblies.
A day after the agreement was reached, members of the pro-life group gathered along the boulevard outside the Crist Clinic.
Holding signs that said, “Adoption – A loving option” and “Jesus heals and forgives,” the group once again prayed and made themselves available to the women visiting the clinic.
One protester said the abortionist yelled at them, but he told WND he didn’t talk to any of the protesters.