GREENSBORO, N.C. — A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Greensboro, North Carolina and Guilford County after a number of Christians were recently cited and arrested for praying outside an abortion facility.
The religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the suit on Tuesday after first attempting via written correspondence to reach an amicable resolution with city attorney Charles Watts. ADF says that the City asserts the citations were justified as the men traveled from outside of the county.
As previously reported, on March 30, five men associated with the pro-life group Love Life, some of whom are pastors, stood on public property adjacent to A Woman’s Choice of Greensboro to pray. Two others stayed nearby in a restaurant parking lot, which they had obtained permission to use.
Police soon cited the seven men for “traveling for a non-essential function” pursuant to the Guilford County Stay-at-Home order. The group’s attorney, who was only present to reason with police, was cited and arrested, and the others who refused to leave — all but one — were likewise arrested and charged with “resisting, delaying and obstructing a public officer.”
According to the Greensboro Police Department, those arrested were Richard Whittier and John Mcatee of Arlington Baptist Church, Leroy Stokes Jr. of Destiny Christian Center, Isaiah Burner of Calvary Chapel of Lake Norman, Love Life Executive Director Justin Reeder, Love Life City Director Andre Gonzalez and attorney Jason Oesterreich.
Reeder and Oesterreich were likewise cited and arrested that Saturday prior, as was Carl Unbinas, the chief operating officer of Love Life Charlotte. Burner was cited, but was not arrested that day as he agreed to leave.
Reeder said that because Christians were outside the abortion facility, six babies were spared.
“This is essential and vital for us to be at these places,” Reeder declared.
On April 4, two pastors sought to pray outside of the facility, but were again stopped by police who said that “praying is a form of demonstration” that is “outside the realm of the stay-at-home order.”
After efforts to reason with the City were unsuccessful, ADF filed suit on Tuesday to contend that the restriction is not narrowly-tailored to serve a significant government interest, as required under free speech case law.
“Defendants are enforcing regulations to interfere with Love Life’s religious expression without any substantial evidence of a compelling need for such an application of the order, while at the same time allowing identical conduct providing charitable
services and walking outdoors in small groups and in public places for purposes other than praying,” the complaint reads.
“The Defendants have alternative, less restrictive means to achieve any legitimate interest they may possess rather than forcing Love Life to abandon its free speech rights, such as by permitting Love Life to walk, pray, and speak where other individuals are permitted to walk for purposes other than praying,” it states.
The lawsuit also argues that the Guilford County order itself is vague, allowing subjective enforcement.
“As our lawsuit explains, the emergency proclamation, the Constitution, and court precedent do not support these interpretations [by the City]. They all support the free speech activities of Love Life,” ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, director of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement.
“The legal rule that the government must follow is that it must have a truly compelling interest in order to violate citizens’ First Amendment rights, and it must do so in the least restrictive means possible. But when the same government is allowing some people to walk, bike, golf, and picnic while threatening others with 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for praying on a sidewalk, they have not even come close to meeting that burden.”