Local governments have tried a variety of ways to shut down pro-life activists who march, carry signs and speak with women entering abortion businesses.
Toledo, Ohio, has adopted ordinances on menacing, obstructing official business, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, loitering and more.
But a lawsuit contends the measures violate the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
The American Freedom Law Center has filed a complaint on behalf of Calvin Zastrow and Corrie Zastrow against the city, Police Chief George Kral, officer Mike Haynes, the department and others over the issue.
“The government has no authority to promote and support the abortion industry by silencing those who oppose it,” said David Yerushalmi, senior counsel for AFLC. “The actions of the city of Toledo and its officers in this case are deplorable, and they violate our clients’ clearly established fundamental rights. We fully intend to stop this egregious violation of the Constitution and to make the city wish it had never sided with the baby killers.”
The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, claims the city and its officers violated the Zastrows’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“Cal, and his daughter Corrie, are Christians. As part of their expressive religious activity, they protest abortion by engaging in prayer, preaching, worship, distributing literature, and holding pro-life signs on the public sidewalks surrounding facilities where abortions are performed, including on the public sidewalks and other public areas adjacent to the Capital Care Network abortion center, which is located in the city of Toledo,” said AFLC.
“Per the complaint filed in this case, the city, through its chief of police and its police officers, has engaged in a pattern of conduct whereby it has enforced or threatened to enforce various provisions of the Ohio Revised Code” against the pair.
“In fact, on October 3, 2017, Cal was preaching on the public sidewalk adjacent to the Capital Care abortion center when the police arrived and ordered him to stop. When Cal refused, the officers arrested him, placed him in handcuffs, and transported him to the Lucas County Correction Center,” AFLC said.
“On other occasions, Corrie was ordered to cease her constitutionally protected activity under threats of arrest by city police officers, who claimed that her free speech activity violated various state and city statutes.”
But the complaints charges the enforcement actions violate the First Amendment protections of free speech and free exercise as well as the 14th Amendment regarding equal protection.
“They are seeking a declaration that the city and its officers violated their rights and an injunction halting any future restrictions on their rights. Corrie is also seeking nominal damages for the past loss of her rights,” the lawyers said.
“This is yet another case of a city and its police officers exercising their muscle to silence peaceful pro-life demonstrators to appease those engaged in the baby killing business. The Constitution protects our clients’ pro-life activity. The city and its police officers have no authority to silence our clients’ speech simply because they are preaching the Gospel on a public sidewalk next to an abortion center,” said Robert Muise, AFLC co-founder.
The complaint states: “By reason of the aforementioned acts, policies, practices, procedures, and/or customs, created, adopted, and enforced under color of state law, defendants have deprived plaintiffs of their right to religious exercise in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states and their political subdivisions under the 14th Amendment.”
The complaint explains that police officers at times ordered the two to be quiet, insisting that making noise, such as playing a guitar and violin, was “too close to the abortion center and thereby disrupting its business.”
The officers threatened arrest because the two were not allowed to “do anything offensive to the business.”