Court Ignores SCOTUS Precedent in Speech Buffer Zone

LIBERTY ALERTS, LIBERTY COUNSEL

HARRISBURG, PA – The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ignored the Supreme Court’s decision regarding protected speech yesterday in Liberty Counsel’s challenge to the city’s unconstitutional “buffer zones” around abortion centers. Liberty Counsel asked the court to reverse the denial of a preliminary injunction against the city of Harrisburg’s “buffer zone” ordinance, which pushes pro-life counselors up to 70 feet away from the Planned Parenthood abortion facility and prohibits their freedom of speech on the public sidewalk.

In so doing, the court ignored the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, which requires the government to prove that it considered other alternatives prior to enacting a total ban of protected speech and to prove that its speech-restrictive ordinance is the least restrictive alternative. The city did nothing prior to adopting this buffer zone ordinance. The city never even attempted to enforce existing laws. Moreover, the court brushed aside the city’s own interpretation of its ordinance to apply to one-on-one conversations “of substance,” meaning the police officers apply the law only to pro-life speech.

Liberty Counsel represents Becky Biter and Colleen Reilly, who have regularly engaged in peaceful sidewalk counseling to encourage women to protect the life of their unborn babies. Liberty Counsel has previously presented evidence concerning the ordinance’s gross intrusion into Biter and Reilly’s constitutional rights.

In 2017, Liberty Counsel won an appeal of a prior ruling by Judge Rambo. In that appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Rambo ignored the First Amendment’s requirement that Harrisburg prove its ordinance did not unconstitutionally burden speech. The court sent the case back to the district court, ordering Judge Rambo to determine whether Harrisburg could satisfy its demanding burden. Following an evidentiary hearing where Liberty Counsel showed the court critical admissions of unconstitutionality by city officials, Judge Rambo upheld the ordinance again, leading to the current appeal. The Third Circuit has now upheld that decision.

“The city of Harrisburg has a constitutional mandate to protect the free speech rights of all people in its jurisdiction, and it has no authority to discriminate on the basis of pro-life viewpoints,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Public sidewalks and parks have always been protected as places where people can gather to participate in the marketplace of ideas, and the court of appeals ignored binding Supreme Court precedent. This case is far from over,” said Staver.


Used with the permission of Liberty Counsel.


Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.


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