The arrest of Angela Swagler and other pro-life protesters is the subject of a multiple-county civil rights lawsuit filed against police and other officials
A county in Maryland has agreed to halt enforcement of a sign ordinance cited when members of a team of pro-life protesters were arrested, shackled and strip-searched while expressing their opposition to abortion.
According to a statement from the Alliance Defense Fund, a consent agreement has been reached that will halt enforcement of the ordinance while its constitutionality is argued in federal court.
“It is unconstitutional to require small groups of Christians to obtain permits to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public area like the one involved in this case,” ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said. “Police used this permit requirement as part of their justification for the unacceptable treatment of our clients, who simply desired to share their pro-life message.”
The enforcement suspension was outlined in an agreement approved by a federal judge hearing the dispute. It prohibits Harford County from requiring protesters with hand-held signs to get a permit first.
In August, a dozen police officers handcuffed peaceful participants in Defend Life’s “Face the Truth” Pro-Life Tour and then denied them a reason for their arrests.
Three young female participants – including teenagers – were subjected to two rounds of strip searches after being charged with loitering, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order, charges which later were dropped.
“The truth of the matter is that our clients were heckled, arrested, imprisoned, shackled, and strip-searched twice for exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said.
The protesters’ lawsuit accuses Bel Air, seven police officials and Harford County of violating the rights of 18 pro-life advocates who were arrested when they held signs and shared their message along a public street.
The lawsuit explained police first ordered the pro-lifers off of county property, and later when they complied and moved to city property, swooped down on them in seven marked police cars, shackled and jailed them, and performed the strip searches.
“This incident paints an ugly picture of the state of religious freedom and free speech in American today,” Theriot said at the time. “The state shouldn’t prosecute Christians for expressing their beliefs on important social issues, nor deny them their constitutional rights.”
The lawsuit by the pro-life protesters, some of whom also are represented by the Thomas More Society of Chicago and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, named as defendants the town and the county, as well as officers Terrence Sheridan, Donald Ravadge, Mark Zulauf and Armand Dupre and three state patrol troopers.
Among the arrested are Angela Swagler, 18, Elizabeth Walsh, 20, and Joan Walsh, 18.