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West Palm Beach launches 2nd barrage against speech

The city of West Palm Beach, Fla., might think twice about trying to silence the speech of  pro-lifers who help women outside an abortion business who face crisis pregnancies.

After all, the last one to take on pro-life activist Susan Pine was U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder lost in a stunning defeat that cost the federal government $120,000 when a local judge noted the strong indications of collusion between the abortion business and the federal agency to eliminate Pine’s speech rights.

West Palm Beach has brought the latest case against Pine and her fellow pro-life protester Marilyn Blackburn. The city has imposed an ordinance that bans all “shouting” within 100 feet of the entrance to the abortion business. It also bans anything amplified, according to a new lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel defended Pine when she was charged earlier by the federal government for allegedly blocking the entrance to the the Presidential Women’s Center. At the time, U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp openly speculated that there was a cozy relationship between the abortion clinic and federal prosecutors that could warp justice.

As Ryskamp dismissed the complaint against Pine, he explained that had there been just a little more evidence, he might have taken action.

“It is rather curious that the Department of Justice was able to meet with the [Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.] staff and police officers the very next day after the alleged violations occurred. It is also curious that the government failed to make any efforts to obtain the identities of the passengers who are the alleged victims in this case – the court finds it hard to believe that the government was completely unaware of the existence of the sign-in sheets and video surveillance system,” he wrote.

The judge said the court “can only wonder whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the government and the PWC, which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine’s conduct.”

“If this is the case, the court would be inclined to sanction the government with, at a minimum, an adverse inference. Given the absence of further evidence substantiating the court’s suspicions, the court is not authorized to do so,” the judge wrote.

The judge’s 21-page ruling in the case that granted Pine a summary judgment and cleared her of the charges said the entire episode raised questions.

“The court is at a loss as to why the government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place,” Ryskamp wrote. “The record [is] almost entirely devoid of evidence that Ms. Pine acted with the prohibited motive and intent or that Ms. Pine engaged in any unlawful conduct. The government has failed to create a genuine issue for trial on all three elements of its FACE (Federal Access to Clinic Entrances) claim, and Ms. Pine is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Federal officials sued her under the FACE act, a civil action, after they alleged she talked to occupants in a car while they were going into a parking lot – and may or may not have been going to an abortion business.

In the new round of the fight, Liberty Counsel sued West Palm Beach and several police officers on behalf of Pine and Blackburn.

Liberty Counsel explained: “The city has enacted an ordinance that bans all ‘shouting’ and amplified sound within 100 feet of the property line of ‘health care facilities,’ regardless of the volume used, and regardless of whether the sound causes any disturbance. Any and all noise coming from a car radio, an iPod, a television inside an adjoining residence, or anything else with a volume button is absolutely banned, regardless of its volume, and even if the listener is wearing headphones.”

But Liberty Counsel said the city and its police department are enforcing the law only against the pro-life activists.

“Susan has already been fined once for using a megaphone outside PWC, and the city and police have threatened further enforcement and punishment. In the meantime, PWC is free to use its own loudspeakers, passersby are free to use their radios and iPods, and the nearby Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical restaurants are free to use their drive-thru speaker systems, even though all of them violate this ordinance,” Liberty Counsel said.

The complaint explains that to get their message to people entering the abortion business, the women need to raise their voices. Meanwhile, the city has modified its noise ordinance that protects the business several times, including recently to require activists to be 100 feet away from the property line, which is expanded from the previous requirement of being 100 feet away from the building itself.

Pine was ticketed because of that change recently, the complaint said: “The only plausible reason for this [latest] drastic extension of the amplification-free zone is to prohibit plaintiffs from effectively exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The case cites the city’s violations of the right to freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, retaliation and equal protection as well as state law.

It points out there is no constitutional right to be absolutely free from being exposed to speech with which one disagrees on a public street in America.

“The ordinance and defendants’ actions … are irrational and unreasonable, and impose irrational and unjustifiable restrictions on constitutionally protected speech in traditional public fora,” the complaint said.