A charter school in the Washington, D.C., area is suing a long list of defendants in its attempt to make sure there are no pro-life messages on public sidewalks adjacent to its buildings.
But lawyers for one of the defendants say their client had a constitutional right to carry his message on a sign on that public sidewalk, which has a Planned Parenthood on the other side.
They are asking an appeals court in Washington to reverse a lower court’s rejection of a motion to dismiss.
The argument was brought on behalf of pro-life advocate Larry Cirignano by officials with Liberty Counsel, who are defending him from the attack by officials at Two Rivers Public Charter School.
Liberty Counsel had asked for a dismissal based on the local Anti-SLAPP law, which stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. The law is intended to limit lawsuits major players may bring against individuals who exercise their constitutional right to express their opinion.
According to the court filing, Cirignano carried a pro-life sign on the public sidewalk that’s between the school and the abortion business.
And for that, the school is suing him for damages.
Liberty Counsel explained that Cirignano has peacefully protested the existence of the abortion business since its construction began in 2015.
The Planned Parenthood building shares an alley with and is located between the two buildings of the Two Rivers Public Charter School.
“The charter school sued Cirigano and other pro-life advocates for being on the public sidewalk shared by the school and Planned Parenthood, claiming the presentation of the truth about Planned Parenthood and informing the public about the school children’s exposure to this abortion facility caused ’emotional distress’ and were a ‘nuisance’ to the school,” Liberty Counsel reported.
But Cirigano has never been on school property, only the sidewalk, and that’s legal.
“It is shocking that a school entrusted with the care of young children would welcome and fight for a Planned Parenthood facility to be located between its elementary and middle school,” said Mat Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel.
The court filing to the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia explains the school sued Cirignano and others, but the lower superior court rejected a request to dismiss based on the Anti-SLAPP law.
The complaint includes 30 pages, but Cirignano is mentioned only six times, including once where he is peacefull holding a sign on the public sidewalk on Nov. 23, 2015.
“The upshot of Two Rivers’ scant mention of Cirignano in its complaint is that Cirignano stood on a public sidewalk, peacefully holding a sign, on one single occasion,” the filing explains.
“Cirignano is not alleged to have ever spoken a single word to a single individual at Two Rivers. Cirignano is not alleged to have approached a single individual at Two Rivers. Cirignano is not alleged to have even opened his mouth at Two Rivers,” Liberty Counsel argued.
He simply was expressing his own beliefs and was not there as part of any “agreement” with anyone else.
The filing explains he never trespassed or broke any other law – and even the school officials are not claiming that he did.
Still, however, the lower court refused to dismiss him from the case, claiming “abortion rights issue is an issue of great importance and defendants are advocating their position.”
Surprisingly, the lower court determined that not all speech is allowed “in all forums.”
“Cirignano made the requisite prima facie showing that Two Rivers’ claims against him arise solely from his constitutionally protected speech in a traditional public forum, concerning a matter of public interest,” LC explained.
That means the school next must demonstrate “with actual evidence” that it is likely to succeed.
However, it “utterly failed,” Liberty Counsel said.