A judge who declared all public areas of Los Angeles County courthouses “no speech zones” has been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit.

According to the complaint filed Thursday, a general order issued Sept. 13 by California Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin “prohibits such free speech activities as picketing, distribution of literature, and demonstration.”

“The courts are supposed to be protecting our First Amendment rights, not suppressing them,” said Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. “This judge’s order is a constitutional travesty and has already forced our clients and other law-abiding citizens from engaging in classic, ordinary free speech.”

The complaint says the ban “requires even an individual prospective speaker to get a permit but fails to provide any objective criteria or time restrictions governing the granting of a permit.”

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent best-selling author and TV co-host Ray Comfort and Pastor Emeal Zwayne.

ADF says the two Christian ministers have been peacefully sharing their faith most mornings for the last two and a half years outside the Los Angeles County courthouse in Bellflower.

For 20 minutes each morning, Comfort and Zwayne talk with people waiting outside before the courthouse opens for the day.

They have never caused any disturbance for the court or for uninterested persons, ADF insists.

Because of the court’s “no speech zone” order, police officers removed the two men from a walkway outside of the courthouse Sept. 30 and told them not to return.

“Our clients have been peaceably speaking on the courthouse steps for years,” said Johnson. “Now a judge has proclaimed a sudden and sweeping crackdown on free speech. A courthouse is the last place you’d expect to find a restriction on an American’s First Amendment rights.”

Johnson said he expects the federal court will “see the obvious problems with Judge MacLaughlin’s order and declare it unconstitutional.”

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