CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two pro-life groups in North Carolina have sued the City of Charlotte for citing and arresting their members while they were peacefully praying and seeking to reach mothers outside of an abortion facility that was allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
The religious liberties group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit on Saturday on behalf of Cities4Life and Love Life Charlotte over the incident that occurred on April 4, when Cities4Life President David Benham and others were arrested for declining to leave as they did not believe they were violating the law.
Their organizations are nonprofit charities that provide a public service, and its members were observing social distancing as required.
According to the complaint, attorneys for the two groups were able to obtain confirmation from Major Kornberg of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) that their outreach would be permissible under the Mecklenburg County and City of Charlotte joint proclamation regarding allowed “essential activities.” The proclamation included nonprofit organizations that “provide charitable and social services.”
Cities4Life works with the H.E.L.P. Crisis Pregnancy Center to offer free ultrasounds and counseling to abortion-minded mothers, and also supplies physical goods, including baby items, as well as funds for groceries, rent, prenatal care and wedding services. Love Life Charlotte likewise supplies needed items to overcome material obstacles to parenting, as well as emotional support and counseling.
ADF says that nonetheless, a dozen police officers descended on the scene that Saturday as the pro-lifers were standing spread apart on the sidewalk outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center.
As previously reported, abortionist Ashutosh “Ron” Virmani was recorded last year calling out “Rape them and send them here!” to pro-life Christians outside of the facility. He had previously been captured referring to African American infants as “ugly black babies” — a remark for which he later apologized, stating that he “lost [his] cool in the heat of exchange.”
Six Christians were arrested and/or cited on April 4 for violating the county coronavirus order and declining to leave: Benham, Robert Reeder, Joshua Kappes, Katherine Burgess, Isaiah Burner and Luke Surak — some of whom are pastors.
Benham tried to reason with the officers, stating, “We are an essential federally-recognized nonprofit charity that helps at-risk mothers and babies. We are within our rights to be here. We are practicing social distancing, we have cleaned our hands, [and] we are offering help to these mothers.”
“And if you’re saying that we don’t have a right to be here, then go into the abortion clinic and make the arrests there,” he said. “I appreciate you serving. I appreciate everything you do for us. But this is wrong and you know it. You cannot tell us to leave.”
Police stated that the Christians were in violation of the joint proclamation because more than 10 people were present between the two groups. ADF believes that the proclamation excludes the nonprofits because of their charitable nature.
However, as previously reported, while the arrests were taking place, two women spared the lives of their unborn babies on the H.E.L.P. Crisis Pregnancy Center mobile ultrasound unit, and one of them and her boyfriend repented and believed the gospel.
“If those two women had not met us, had not been told of all the help available for them, they would be just another statistic of death and those babies would be dead right now in all likelihood,” volunteer Vicky Kaseorg outlined in a video posted to social media. “Both [were] strongly abortion-minded [and] both turned from death to life because we were there.”
“So, we are an essential service if you believe the unborn child is a living human being,” she said. “[God] uses us, and He can’t use us if we’re not here.”
The lawsuit contends that the actions of police violated their freedom of religion and speech, as well as their right to equal protection under the law.
“Defendants lack a rational or compelling state interest for such disparate treatment of the [pro-life] Advocates because prohibiting prayer and religious speech when walking, while at the same time permitting walking in the same location and manner by those who are not praying or engaging in religious speech, bears no real or substantial relation to the public health crisis underlying the Proclamation,” it reads.
“Defendants’ disparate treatment of the Advocates is not narrowly tailored because prohibiting the Advocates from providing charitable social services to women near abortion facilities is not the least restrictive means of advancing any compelling or even legitimate interest the government may have regarding the public health crisis,” the lawsuit states.
It seeks an injunction, as well as a declaration that the proclamation as written and as applied is unconstitutional.
ADF had submitted a letter to City attorney Patrick Baker earlier this month in an attempt to resolve the matter and avoid litigation.
“We support the efforts of public officials to prioritize health and safety, but if other people are free to talk on sidewalks, people of faith should be, too. They can’t be singled out for their religious beliefs or because their form of speech is prayer or pro-life counseling,” Kevin Theriot, ADF senior counsel and director of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement.
“And if abortion businesses can stay open during the coronavirus crisis, non-profit organizations that provide social services to women should be allowed outside — particularly when they are abiding by health and safety guidelines, as Mr. Benham and the others were.”