LANSING, Mich. — Following a lawsuit from a man who was ticketed for engaging in pro-life outreach outside a Detroit abortion facility, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has posted a notice on her website advising that her stay-at-home order does not prohibit outdoor First Amendment expression.
“Does Executive Order 2020-42 prohibit persons from engaging in outdoor activities that are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution?” reads a new page created on the Michigan.gov website last week.
“No. Persons may engage in expressive activities protected by the First Amendment within the State of Michigan, but must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including remaining at least six feet from people from outside the person’s household.”
As previously reported, Andrew Belanger, who is associated with ONElife for Life, was standing alone outside of Scotsdale Women’s Center and Family Planning on March 30 when several police cruisers pulled up to confront him. Miles O’Brien and Justin Phillips, who are also with the organization, soon arrived to join Belanger and noted the significant police presence.
Online footage captures an officer warning, “We’re here for a violation of the stay-at-home order by the governor, okay? This isn’t essential to be out right now. … Right now, it’s a $500 fine. If you keep this up after that, we’ll take you to jail.”
One of the men subsequently contends that the order allows residents to go outside and asks why they cannot do so. The officer, who advises that his supervisor is on the way, asks if the men are doing anything “essential” and threatens, “If my boss orders me to lock everybody up, that’s what we’ll do.”
The men tell the officers that is unjust to allow abortion facilities to continue killing unborn children while a few people standing outside to save those babies’ lives are being threatened with arrest.
“No justice is being carried out for these babies,” Belanger laments to viewers. “They’re more concerned with us coming out holding signs, being voices. But we love these officers; we’re praying for them.”
“We want to obey God. God has commanded us in his word not to murder. And every business is being shut down, deemed non-essential, just about,” he says. “But then you have the abortion mill staying open. And there might be 15 babies inside right now who are scheduled for death.”
The officers outline that they are going to issue Belanger a ticket, advising that they are just following orders. They argue that “protests” are prohibited because they are not essential, but the abortion facility is considered a medical service — and that conversely is necessary.
“Let me tell you something. This is a medical office. That’s essential,” one officer remarks.
“If I were to say that babies were dying in a place and it was my job to go rescue them, I would say that’s pretty essential,” O’Brien refutes.
The men later joyed as a woman walked out of the facility, changing her mind about aborting her unborn twins. She received literature and exchanged phone numbers, and also showed the Christians her ultrasound.
Belanger and others went on to obtain legal representation from the American Freedom Law Center, which sued Whitmer and the City of Detroit over the matter.
“Because abortion centers remain open in Michigan during this current pandemic, Plaintiffs are compelled by their consciences to engage in their expressive religious activities on the public sidewalks outside of abortion centers located throughout the state,” the lawsuit read.
“Plaintiffs are implementing the social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, specifically including remaining at least six feet from people on the public sidewalks when engaging in their expressive religious activities.”
The complaint also noted that “Executive Order 2020-21 provides exceptions for individuals who walk, hike, run, or cycle on public sidewalks throughout the State of Michigan, but the order punishes Plaintiffs for using the very same public sidewalks for exercising their constitutional rights.”
Judge Janet Neff gave Whitmer and the City of Detroit 14 days to respond to the complaint after being served. According to The Detroit News, the governor’s office remarked on April 3 that Whitmer was “confident that these actions are lawful and necessary to protect the health and safety of Michiganders during this unprecedented public health emergency.”
However, on April 7, her office added a clarification to the state website, outlining that free speech activity is allowed as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
Spokeswoman Tiffany Brown told the outlet that the note “made clear what was always the case: that the constitutional protections remain in place and the governor is fully committed to protecting them.”
The American Freedom Law Center says it will consider its mission accomplished if the City now dismisses the citation.