WASHINGTON – A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that a lawsuit by anti-abortion advocates against the District of Columbia can move forward.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said Aug. 15 a lower court’s ruling was wrong to dismiss claims that the city had violated protesters’ free speech rights after they had been arrested by police for writing a slogan on a sidewalk three years ago.
In August 2020, amid ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country, police arrested two people for writing “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” with chalk on the sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Washington during a rally. The police cited a city statute that says it is illegal to “write, mark, draw, or paint” on public property without explicit permission from city authorities.
The rally was run by the group Students for Life of America which had received a police permit for the event and had sought, but not obtained, permission from the mayor’s office to paint the message “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on the street outside the clinic.
The group was told by police officers at the scene that they couldn’t write that message with paint or chalk. When Warner DePriest, a Students for Life staff member, and Erica Caporaletti, a college student at Maryland’s Towson University, chalked this message on the sidewalk they were placed in handcuffs, given a citation, and later released.
The lawsuit over the charges was filed by Students for Life and the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a Black conservative advocacy organization. It argued that the city had selectively enforced a statute when it allowed other writings on public property including “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police.”
The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the pro-life advocates had been targeted because of “the content of the message.”
The unanimous 3-0 decision by the panel of judges said: “The government may not play favorites in a public forum — permitting some messages and prohibiting others.”
Erin Hawley, vice president for Alliance Defending Freedom, was happy with the court’s decision. “Every American deserves for their voice to be heard as they engage in important cultural and political issues of the day,” she said in a statement.