This week the Great Lakes Justice Center asked the United States Supreme Court to protect pro-life speech. Read the full brief at www.GreatLakesJC.org
Here is an excerpt from the Justice Center’s submission to the Supreme Court, (with some legal citations removed).
The First Amendment protects a person’s right to have his viewpoint voiced and heard. And this right is at its zenith when it involves speech on a controversial public issue, such as abortion, on a public sidewalk. As stated by this Court, “[S]peech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,’ and is entitled to special protection.” Petitioner’s … pro-life speech is entitled to protection under the First Amendment, not prosecution under an unconstitutional … statute.
Indeed, “[T]he streets are natural and proper places for the dissemination of information and opinion, and one is not to have the exercise of his liberty of expression in appropriate places abridged on the plea that it may be exercised in some other place.” Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 163 (1939); Am.-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm. v. City of Dearborn, 418 F.3d 600, 605 (6th Cir. 2005) (striking down a city ordinance and stating, “Constitutional concerns are heightened further where, as here, the [challenged regulation] restricts the public’s use of streets and sidewalks for political speech”); Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators, 460 U.S. 37, 55 (1983) (“In a public forum . . . all parties have a constitutional right of access . . . .”).
The Maine Civil Rights Act may no further restrict Petitioner’s… speech on the public sidewalk than can it silence his speech because its pro-life message upsets or “interferes” with the services of Planned Parenthood. In Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949), this Court reversed the criminal convictions of defendants charged with breaching the peace due to exercising free speech “if it stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance, or if it molests the inhabitants in the enjoyment of peace and quiet by arousing alarm.” Id. at 3. In finding such a position unconstitutional, this Court memorably stated,
[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech . . . is . . . protected against censorship or punishment. . . . There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. Id. at 4;
The Justice Center’s legal brief represents pro-life Christians with expertise on matters concerning sidewalk counseling and post-abortive harm to women. Some of this expertise was derived from firsthand knowledge and post-abortion testimonies. The women’s compelling testimonials indicate they would have benefited greatly if a sidewalk counselor had been available to help them by presenting them with resources, information, and options other than abortion.
The Justice Center’s legal brief argues that the government’s speech prohibition violates the constitutionally protected rights of pro-life individuals across the country to express a pro-life viewpoint — so that women can learn about life-giving options and support.
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