Newsbreak

Charleston officials back down after trying to silence pro-life free speech

The Thomas More Society is announcing victory in another pro-life free speech case, this time revolving around a panhandling ordinance in Charleston, South Carolina.

In February, police told pro-life activists distributing literature outside the Charleston Women’s Medical Center abortion facility they were violating a city ordinance forbidding “the passing of items to or from the occupant of a motor vehicle on a roadway,” claiming the public right-of-way outside the facility counted as a roadway.

After learning of the incident, Thomas More sent a letter to city officials arguing that the action was “unconstitutional because it censors the core First Amendment rights of our clients, who have a clear constitutional right to stand on the public right-of-way in order to appeal to persons entering or exiting the parking lot of the Medical Center.”

Among the letter’s legal citations was the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, which struck down Massachusetts’s 35-foot abortion facility buffer zone on the grounds that “handing out leaflets in the advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint is the essence of First Amendment expression; no form of speech is entitled to greater constitutional protection.’”

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In response, Susan Herdina of the city’s legal department confirmed, “we do not intend to enforce [the Ordinance] against your clients for standing beside the entrances to the Medical Center parking lot in the public right of way.”

Thomas More Associate Counsel Jocelyn Floyd welcomed resolution of the dispute, noting that “pro-lifers standing on the public right-of-way, off the street itself, offering resources to affirm and promote life, pose no danger to traffic flow or safety and therefore their free speech should not even be considered to be under the reach of the Ordinance at all.”

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