A stop on a cross-country pro-life tour didn’t go according to plans for members of Survivors Campus Life Tour when they were arrested in Jackson, Miss., during what the Survivors say was a “lawful pro-life outreach at a public high school.”
The group of pro-life youth activists first attempted to hold signs, distribute literature, and peacefully dialogue with students on a public sidewalk in front of Murrah High School on Monday.
According to attorneys at Life Legal Defense Foundation, “Jackson school police officers immediately confronted the group and moved their signs across the street, sequestered students back inside the school grounds, and ordered students not to take the literature being handed out or speak with the demonstrators.
“The police claimed that the sidewalk belonged to the school and that they had a right to remove the pro-life activists. At the same time, the Survivors observed that the same sidewalk they were denied access to was being used by passersby and joggers.”
When “Survivors,” as they refer to themselves, fan out across the country, making stops at over 200 public high schools each year, they are trained to know their First Amendment rights, and how to obey the strict rule of law, according to the founder of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust group, Jeff White.
White told WND by phone that this group of young people know the law very well, and don’t violate it, yet occasionally arrests are made by officials unfamiliar with the Constitution.
“The team was on a public sidewalk, open to joggers, walkers, and other citizens, which means they have every right to be there,” White told WND
“Our teams stand on public sidewalks with pro-life signs and literature, and offer it to passing students as they leave school for the day.
“Instead of supporting the constitutional rights of our people, officials in Jackson are clearly violating their First Amendment rights,” White said.
A video taken at the high school shows uniformed officers taking signs from the group and dumping them on the ground across the street from the school.
There is also a scene showing a hand attempting to block a camera lens, with a pro-lifer asking what law was being broken, and a voice saying, “My law.”
The Christian pro-life group posted an alert about the arrests shortly after they happened.
“The Campus Life Team were arrested for standing on a public sidewalk in front of Murrah High this afternoon,” a Facebook post said.
“Moments after arriving at the campus to share the message of Life, Kristina Garza and Brianna Baxter were handcuffed and taken to the county jail while two more members had their signs and [literature] taken from them and were forced across the street.”
White was reached by phone while he drove to Jackson to support his team members who were held in jail overnight.
“This really angers me,” he told WND. “This is a complete and total violation of free speech.”
“Law enforcement officers and officers of the court are charged with protecting our civil liberties, but in this case they are intentionally conspiring to subvert the legal process and deny these pro-life advocates their right to due process of law,” said Dana Cody, executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “Rest assured, everyone involved in the miscarriage of justice will be held accountable for their misdeeds.”
White tells WND that Garza and Baxter apparently are being charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with a bus driver and trespassing, although he was at a loss to explain any of those charges based on statements from people he’s talked to from the scene.
“It sounds like they claim interference with a bus driver, because kids would stop to talk to our group instead of getting on the bus,” White said.
School officials told WND that because of “safety concerns” arrests had to be made, but according to the Survivors, they were in the same spot handing out literature on Monday, without any safety issues.
When they left on Monday, school officials told the pro-life group they’d be arrested if they came back. It was when the group showed up to the public sidewalk on Tuesday that school security stepped in.
The school’s statement to WND indicates that they were prepared for this group to be on the sidewalk on Tuesday afternoon. Yet, according to school officials, security had no choice but to arrest the duo.
WND requested specific safety concerns from the school, but none was given.
“The school house is not a place for a demonstration such as the one that took place at Murrah this afternoon,” said Jayne B. Sargent, interim superintendent of Jackson Public Schools.
“The demonstrators had been contacted in advance and asked not to go on the Murrah campus. Our Campus Enforcement officers had no recourse but to arrest the demonstrators.
“Our officers also had concerns about safety issues for our students and the demonstrators. Interfering with a bus is not appropriate behavior for anyone to display to students. Again, we had no recourse but to arrest the demonstrators.”
WND also asked the school to clarify if officials considered the sidewalk along Murrah Drive in front of the school to be public or private, but they didn’t respond.
White tells WND that the road and sidewalk are wide open to the general public, which he says means, “If the sidewalk is open to the public, you can’t exclude media or even demonstrators from it.”
Father Frank Pavone, a prominent pro-life leader, and national director of Priests for Life, said of the arrests, “Those who are persecuting these brave young pro-life activists are cowards, and a good example of what is wrong in our culture today.
“I consider the Survivors to be a movement within the pro-life movement, inspiring all of us to give ourselves more generously for the unborn,” he said.
“Sometimes that means arrest and prison, not for doing wrong, but for standing up against wrongdoing.”
WND reached a lawyer for the women, Alison Aranda, who said she was hesitant to rely on information coming from officials in Jackson, “Because much of what they’ve told me so far has been incorrect.”
“These two were arrested at 3:30 yesterday, and the booking process took well over nine hours,” Aranda told WND.
“That means no phone calls, or anything, because in Jackson it takes nine hours to book someone.”
Aranda also tells WND that the two women were told they would have to post $2,000 bail in order to get out of jail, and were held overnight.
“We were also guaranteed that the women wouldn’t appear before a judge today by someone who claimed that they were in charge of the schedule, only to be told an hour later that they would see a judge before noon,” Aranda told WND
Later, a judge set the pair free on the promise to appear in court at a later date.
White tells WND that the Survivors intend to pursue every available avenue to claim the right to stand on a public sidewalk in Jackson, Mississippi.
In addition to what they feel is an unlawful arrest, the group wants to know why the two women were denied basic needs like water while in jail.