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The state Supreme Court in Wyoming has issued a ruling protecting the graphic abortion violence photographs and images that pro-life protesters use to shock people into a debate on the procedures used to kill the unborn in America.
The ruling came today in a conflict between Operation Save America and the town of Jackson, which went to court and without notifying OSA obtained an order that the pro-life organization could not exercise members’ First Amendment rights in parts of Jackson last year.
A large part of the town’s concern was the “large photographs” of “disfigured and aborted fetus images.”
According to a report from Jackson Police Lt. Robert Gilliam, “the group has consistently demonstrated throughout the town of Jackson showing the same graphic photographs. The group has refused repeated requests from me and other law enforcement officials to remove these graphic photographs. This came after police received several hundred phone calls, emails, personal visits and face to face complaints from citizens who see the photographs as obscene and offensive.”
The city’s ultimately obtained an ex parte hearing, where a judge issued a temporary restraining order silencing the pro-life message without notifying OSA. The ex parte order resulted in Rev. Chet Gallegher and Pastor Mark Holick, two of the protesters, ultimately being arrested for violating that order.
The organization, whose members hail from a number of states, dispatched protesters to Jackson in May 2011 to raise awareness to the abortion clinic run by Brent Blue.
Town officials were alarmed that Boy Scouts attending their 2011 annual Elk Fest in the town at the same time might see the images.
But the state Supreme Court found that just as speech on issues of public concern is protected, so are those images.
“We find that the ex parte [temporary restraining order] was issued in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Rule 65 of the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure,” the opinion said.
The opinion explained that the First Amendment does not protect everything – fraud, defamation, obscenity and fighting words are not protected, for example.
But it added, “Speech on public issues or matters of public concern ‘are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment.’ … Speech directed at abortion policy is public issue speech.”
“The fact that the messages conveyed by those communications may be offensive to their recipients does not deprive them of constitutional protection,” the panel wrote. “As a general matter, we have indicated that in public debate our own citizens must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide ‘adequate ‘breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment,'” the opinion said.
“We find that this level of protection must likewise be extended to the graphic photographs OSA chooses to use in its demonstrations,” the justices wrote.
“The Supreme Court has stated it will not expand the categories of speech that receive limited protection, such as obscenity, unless there is a demonstration of a longstanding American tradition forbidding such speech or expressive conduct,” the opinion said.
The opinion also found that the streets and sidewalks of Jackson are exactly what is thought of regarding a public forum.
Ultimately, the charges stemming from the arrests of the two pastors were dropped, but the appeal was continued to the state’s high court because of the likelihood that the situation can be repeated, since the pro-life protesters plan to return to Jackson in just weeks.
Holick, of Spirit One Christian Center, told WND that the group’s activities had been routine – handing out brochures about the issue of life, marching sidewalks to declare the message and asking residents to pray for the abortion business operator.
He said while the images do upset people, they should direct their objections to those who made the events captured in the photographs happen.
“Are we more concerned that we’re showing the image, or the fact that the image was produced,” he wondered. “My children grew up seeing those signs, they understand someone hurt the baby.”
Town officials did not respond to a WND request for comment.
Gilliam had explained that he complained to OSA officials about the images.
“The conversations … regarding the graphic signs have been cordial but matter-of-fact like. They acknowledge the signs are graphic and offend most people, but that is their intent. They wish to ‘shock’ the public into taking their side on the abortion debate in this country,” the court ruling noted he said.
“The topic of abortion incites like no other issue in this country today. It divides the nation, our religions, our families, our politics and our society. The issue arouses deep passions that find full expression in full an open and public debate that gives all participants the satisfaction of a fair and full hearing,” the opinion said.
There also was no evidence that there was a danger of a “breach of peace” and no reason to have the ordered issued in secret, the opinion said.
“The town has not met its burden of establishing that the TRO ban was necessary to serve the town’s interest and that less restrictive measures would not have been adequate,” the opinion said.